Demonstrators killed by security forces as protests sweep Syria
At least eight people were reportedly killed by security forces Friday during anti-regime protests following Muslim prayers across Syria. The US and France have called for President Bashar al-Assad to lead a transition or "get out."
AFP - Syrian security forces killed at least eight people on Friday as anti-regime protests broke out across Syria, including in the capital Damascus, activists said.
"We have three people killed in the southern town of Dael, three others in the Damascus suburb of Qatana, one in the suburb of Zabadani and another in Jableh, located near the coastal city of Latakia," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The killings took place as pro-democracy protesters again took to the streets in several cities and towns across the country after Muslim Friday prayers, in what has become a weekly ritual.
Those killed in Dael were chanting "Allahu akbar" or "God is greatest" on rooftops when they were gunned down at dawn, Abdel Rahman said.
Baton-wielding troops also violently dispersed thousands of people protesting in the northern town of Aleppo and the eastern town of Deir Ezzor, the head of another rights group said.
Security forces waded in with clubs to disperse the protest in the north Damascus district of Rokn-eddin, Abdul Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian Human Rights League, told AFP by telephone.
"We have received information that the Syrian security forces fired in the air to disperse around 5,000 protesters who gathered in Deir Ezzor after the Friday prayers," he added.
In Aleppo, security forces used truncheons to disperse hundreds of protesters gathered in the Salaheddin district, Rihawi said, while in the northeastern town of Derbassiyeh, some 400 people protested against the regime by singing the national anthem and waving the Syrian flag. Rihawi said there was no police intervention in Derbassiyeh.
Protests were also reported in the region of Homs, located in central Syria, in Qamlishi, in the northeast of the country and in the northern, Kurdish-majority town of Amuda.
Friday's unrest took place as French President Nicolas Sarkozy endorsed a call by his US counterpart for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to lead a transition or "get out."
"We've done everything to bring Syria into the international community. Everything. We talked (to the Syrians), tried to help them, to understand them," said Sarkozy, who was speaking at the summit of G8 nations in France.
"Unfortunately, I'm sorry to say that Syria's leaders are moving quickly in reverse. Under these conditions, France withdraws its trust and denounces what must be denounced," Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy's declaration is the first time that France has spoken so explicitly about Assad leaving power. Until now France has simply called for an end to the repression in Syria and for reforms to be implemented.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also telephoned Assad on Friday and urged him to move toward reforms to end the deadly unrest, a government official said.
Erdogan "emphasised again the importance of reform," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, refusing to give other details.
Erdogan, who enjoys good relations with Assad, has piled up pressure on the Syrian leader to initiate a democratic transition but stopped short of calling for his departure.
Since the revolt in Syria erupted mid-March, Friday protests have become a weekly ritual and are widely seen as a barometer of whether activists are able to maintain momentum despite the repression.
The protests that swept the country on Friday last week left at least 44 people dead. Several more were killed the following day during funerals for the victims.
Protesters in recent days have shifted their strategy, opting to stage demonstrations at night in a bid to outwit the security forces and avoid arrest.
More than 1,000 people have been killed and 10,000 others arrested since the revolt began in mid-March, according to rights groups.
Syrian authorities say 143 soldiers, security forces and police have been killed.
Foreign journalists have been barred from travelling inside Syria to report on the unrest.
The government insists the unrest is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.
It initially responded to the revolt by offering some concessions, including lifting the state of emergency in place for nearly five decades, but coupled that with a fierce military crackdown focused on protest hubs.
The opposition has dismissed calls for dialogue, saying that could only take place once the violence ends, political prisoners are released and other reforms are adopted.