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Middle east

Death toll rises after violent clashes in Deraa

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-04-08

At least 19 people were killed in Deraa Friday, with bodies left lying in the streets after police used smoke bombs and live bullets to break up an anti-regime protest. Violent protests have rocked the nation over the past four weeks.

REUTERS - Protests erupted across Syria against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad on Friday and sources said at least 19 people were killed in the southern city of Deraa, the cradle of unrest challenging his 11-year rule.

In the east, thousands of ethnic Kurds demonstrated for reform despite the president's offer this week to ease rules which bar many Kurds from citizenship, activists said.
 
Protests swept the country of 20 million people, from the Mediterranean port of Latakia to Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border, as demonstrations entered a fourth week in defiance of Assad's security crackdown and growing list of reform pledges.
 
"Freedom, freedom, we want freedom," thousands of protesters chanted in many Syrian cities. Some shouted: "We sacrifice our blood and soul for you, Deraa."
 
Residents said security forces used water cannon and smoke bombs to break up a 2,000-strong protest in the old quarter of Hama, the city where thousands of people were killed in 1982.
 
They fired on thousands of protesters in Deraa, where demonstrations first broke out in March, residents said. They said protesters set fire to a building belonging to the ruling Baath Party and smashed a statue of the president's brother, Basil.
 
A volunteer at Deraa hospital and an activist said that 17 people were killed, reading a list of names. It took the death toll in three weeks of protests to more than 90.
 
State television said armed groups killed 19 policemen and wounded 75 in Deraa.
Authorities have blamed armed groups for the violence and state television broadcast footage on Friday of plain clothed gunmen it said fired at security forces and civilians alike. It said a policeman and an ambulance driver were killed.
 
Syria has prevented other media reporting from Deraa.
 
"I saw pools of blood and three bodies in the street being picked up by relatives," a Deraa resident told Reuters by phone.
 
"There were snipers on roofs. Gunfire was heavy. The injured are being taken to homes. No one trusts putting his relative in a hospital in these circumstances," he added. Many protesters feared they would be arrested if taken to clinics
 
Bodies lying on streets
 
Another resident who gave his name as Abu Salem said many bodies were lying on the streets of Deraa.
 
"But no one can reach them because the area is surrounded," he said, suggesting that death toll could be higher than first believed.
 
The city's Omari Mosque was turned once again into a makeshift clinic, residents said, and its loudspeakers broadcast an appeal for medical assistance.
 
Popular demonstrations calling for greater freedom have shaken the country, ruled under emergency law since Assad's Baath Party took power in a 1963 coup.
 
Assad has responded with a blend of force against protesters, gestures towards political reform and concessions to conservative Muslims including closing Syria's only casino.
 
Activists said the steps taken were not enough.
 
A key demand of the protesters is the repeal of the emergency law. Assad ordered a committee to study replacing it with anti-terrorism legislation, but critics say it will probably grant the state many of the same powers.
 
Under Assad, who took over as president in 2000 when his father Hafez al-Assad died after 30 years in power, Syria has been Iran's closest Arab ally, a major player in Lebanon and a supporter of militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
 
In the northeastern city of Qamishli, Kurdish youths chanted: "No Kurd, no Arab, Syrian people are one. We salute the martyrs of Deraa." The protests broke out despite Assad's pledge on Thursday to grant citizenship to stateless Kurds.
 
It was not clear how many Kurds would be given nationality, but at least 150,000 Kurds are registered as foreigners as a result of a 1962 census in the eastern region of al-Hasaka.
 
"The citizenship gesture only helped fuel the street. The Kurdish cause is one for democracy, freedom and cultural identity," Hassan Kamel, a senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Party, told Reuters.
 
Protests erupted in the western city of Homs and gunfire was heard in the Damascus suburb of Harasta.
 
Sticks with nails
 
A Westerner living in the Kfar Souseh district of Damascus said police and Assad loyalists attacked protesters as they left a mosque. "I never saw so many thugs in my life. They beat them with electric batons and with sticks that had nails sticking out," said the witness.
 
Residents and activists reported demonstrations in the coastal town of Banias, in Tartous, in Douma and in Tel. In several cities they chanted: "Christians and Muslims, we want freedom."
 
A video posted on an opposition website showed a protester telling a cheering crowd: "We want our freedom whether they like it or not, either freedom or death. We will not stop."
 
In Deraa, protesters echoed the slogans that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and challenged others across the Arab world: "The people want the overthrow of the regime."
 
Deraa's Sunni Muslim tribes resent the wealth and power amassed by the minority Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shi'ite Islam to which Assad belongs.
 
Last week, Assad sacked his government and later appointed Agriculture Minister Adel Safar to form a new cabinet. The state news agency SANA said on Thursday the new government was expected to be announced next week.
 

 

Date created : 2011-04-08

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