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Middle east

Amid mass arrests, defiant protesters vow to press on

Latest update : 2011-05-03

Syrian anti-regime demonstrators called for permanent sit-ins across the country on Tuesday, after a government ultimatum expired and more than 1,000 people had been arrested in a two-day security sweep, according to human rights organisations.

AFP - Anti-regime protesters called for permanent sit-ins across Syria from Tuesday as the authorities were reported to have arrested more than 1,000 people in their latest crackdown on demonstrations.

"We call on Syrians in all regions to gather from Tuesday evening in all public places to organise sit-ins which will continue day and night," said a Facebook post by the opposition Syrian Revolution 2011 website.

The call came one day into a 15-day interior ministry deadline for people who had committed "unlawful acts" to give themselves up, and as security forces rounded up activists and dissidents across the country.

It also urged Syrians to "supply information about saboteurs, terrorists and arms caches," pledging "they will be spared any subsequent legal consequences."

The ultimatum came as activists pledged fresh anti-government protests following the weekend deaths of dozens of people.

The National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria said in a statement that more than 1,000 people had been arrested in two days.

"There has been an insane intensification of arrests in towns. The authorities are arresting anyone who wants to demonstrate, especially writers, intellectuals and activists known to be demanding reform," it said.

Internationally, France said President Bashar al-Assad's government is losing legitimacy.

"A government that kills its citizens because its citizens want to express themselves and install a real democracy loses its legitimacy," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told journalists in Paris.

Asked whether France wanted Assad to be specifically named in EU sanctions against Syria being discussed in Brussels, Alain Juppe told reporters: "France wishes so."

On Monday Juppe had warned that Assad's regime was bound to fall if it continued its bloody crackdown.

"If the regime perseveres down this path, it will fall, one day or another, but it will fall," he said.

Rami Abdel Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said arrests were being made all the time in a nationwide crackdown, and that regime agents were armed with lists of people to be pulled in.

Activists posted footage on YouTube of protests in Homs and in the Midan district of Damascus.

"No to violence, no to sabotage, no to unemployment" read a banner at one demonstration in the Bab Sbaa quarter of Homs.

Protests also took place in Hama and in the Jassem area near the southern flashpoint town of Daraa -- hub of the anti-regime protests that erupted in Syria on March 15 -- where many arrests were reported.

"Important arrests in Daraa today (Tuesday) and yesterday according to lists: people aged between 18 and 40 interrogated in a Daraa stadium, at least 1,000 detained," a human rights activist in Damascus said.

Daraa was reported to have water and electricity again on Tuesday, except for the Al-Omari mosque area which was the scene of clashes.

The official SANA news agency reported on Monday that 600 tonnes of flour had been delivered to Daraa, where activists had reported major shortages of food, medicine and baby milk.

A military spokesman on Monday announced the arrest of 499 people in Daraa, a week after thousands of troops backed by tanks swooped on the town to crush protests.

The spokesman also announced the deaths of two members of the security forces "as well as 10 terrorists." Eight soldiers were wounded and five gunmen waiting in ambush were arrested, the military added.

The army said it had entered Daraa on April 25 at the request of residents to rid them of "terrorist gangs" responsible for a spate of "killings and vandalism."

The international Red Cross urged Syria to immediately lift restrictions on access to casualties in Daraa.

"The violence has resulted in a large number of casualties and we fear that if the situation worsens more lives will be lost," said Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC delegation in Damascus.

The northern Syrian port and oil terminal of Banias, another centre for protests against Assad's government, was expecting an imminent assault on Tuesday and was surrounded, activists said.

The Syrian Revolution 2011 site, a driving force behind the protests, urged Syrians to mobilise in solidarity with Daraa and all "besieged towns."

"We say to this regime: 'The court of the people will judge you'," it said.

Assad's government has persistently blamed the violence on "armed criminal gangs" and has portrayed the protest movement as a conspiracy.

The Insan human rights groups said the civilian death toll from the unprecedented demonstrations in Syria has topped 607.

Date created : 2011-05-03


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