Opponents of Syria’s regime plan to rally after Friday Muslim prayers, with a leading activist saying embattled President al-Assad’s office had promised him security forces would not fire on protesters, despite a climate marked by violent crackdowns.
AFP - Regime opponents vowed to stage rallies Friday which Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad ordered troops not to fire on, even as his forces mounted a sweeping arrest campaign in protest hotspots.
Russia cautioned against foreign intervention in Syria that could repeat the "Libya scenario," after the United States warned Assad's regime would face more international pressure over its bloody crackdown on protests.
A leading activist, writer Louai Hussein, said the protests would go ahead as usual after weekly Muslim prayers on Friday after Assad's office promised him that security forces would not shoot at demonstrators.
In a message posted on his Facebook page, Hussein said that senior Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban had "told me during a telephone conversation that strict presidential orders were given not to fire on the demonstrators."
"All of those who violate these orders will assume full responsibility," the activist quoted Shaaban as saying.
The activist went on to call for "peaceful protests, regardless of the behaviour of the security services."
The Syrian Revolution 2011, a Facebook group that has been a driving force behind the protests, has called for a "Free Women Friday" in support of arrested women demonstrators.
Several female protesters have been arrested, particularly in Damascus and the Mediterranean coastal city of Banias, where women marched calling for the release of their detained relatives and an end to the army's assault on protest hubs.
Four women were killed during protests on May 7, activists said.
Syria, one of the most autocratic countries in the Middle East, has been rocked by two months of unprecedented popular protests inspired by revolts that ousted strongmen in Tunisia and Egypt.
Up to 700 people have been killed and at least 8,000 arrested since the the protest movement emerged in mid-March, human rights groups say.
The regime has routinely blamed the deadly violence on "armed terrorist gangs."
On Thursday, troops and security agents pressed on with the crackdown, rounding up opposition leaders including prominent human rights campaigner Najati Tayara, rights watchdogs said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of people were detained in Banias and the neighbouring villages of Al-Beyda and Al-Qariri.
Lawyer Jalal Kindo was among those detained in the city, where security forces have been hunting down dissidents and protest organisers, the London-based group said.
Portrait of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad
Activists, journalists, and intellectuals were also detained in Damascus and the cities of Aleppo, Homs and Latakia, as well as smaller protest centres.
An activist in Banias said the city was like a ghost-town on Thursday afternoon, with people afraid to go out for fear of arrest and with army checkpoints on every corner.
Gunfire could be heard in Ein al-Nabe district, sealed off by the army while security forces went in to conduct arrests.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Syria on Thursday it will face more international pressure over its crackdown on popular protests, behaviour she called "a sign of remarkable weakness."
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cautioned Friday against foreign intervention in Syria, and urged the opposition not to seek a repeat of the "Libya scenario" where Western allies are carrying out air strikes against regime targets.
"We are very worried that the process of reconciliation, the process of the start of dialogue ... is being slowed down by a desire of some participants to attract foreign forces to support their actions," Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying.
Australia signalled meanwhile that it will tighten sanctions against Syria as Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd condemned what he called "deplorable" human rights abuses by the Assad regime.
Date created : 2011-05-13