- Bashar al-Assad - demonstrations - Syria - unrest
Deadly protests erupt in Syrian cities
At least nine protesters were killed Friday after security forces opened fire to disperse an anti-regime demonstration in a Damascus suburb, according to a witness. Thousands of Syrians took to the streets in other cities across the country.
AFP - Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters on Friday north of Damascus and in the south of the country, killing at least nine people, a witness and a human rights activist told AFP.
The shootings came as thousands of Syrians staged demonstrations after Friday prayers.
At least eight protesters died in Douma, 15 kilometres (nine miles) north of the capital when police opened fire after protesters emerging from a mosque pelted them with stones, the witness told AFP by telephone.
The death toll could be more than 10, said the witness, but he only provided AFP six full names for those killed: Ibrahim Mubayed, Ahmad Rajab, Fuad Ballah, Mohammed Alaya, Naeem al-Moqaddam and Ammar al-Tinawi as well as someone from the Khuli family and another from the Issa family.
An official denied any involvement by the security forces in Douma, blaming gunmen for shooting at protesters from rooftops, killing several people and wounding dozens including policemen.
"Gunmen opened fire on hundreds of people from rooftops in Douma and on security forces, killing several people and wounding dozens of civilians, security forces and policemen," the official SANA news agency quoted the official as saying.
SANA also reported that a girl was killed in the industrial city of Homs north of Damascus when gunmen opened fire on civilians and a soldier was serious wounded when young men tried to snatch his weapon in the southern flashpoint city of Daraa.
At least three people were killed in the village of Sanamen near Daraa, when security forces opened fire on protesters, a human rights activist said.
But he could identify only one victim, Dia al-Shumari, in his 20s, who was shot dead as he entered Sanamen with protesters from two nearby villages, Ankhal and Jassem.
There was no independent confirmation of the report.
The United States applauded what it called the courage and dignity of demonstrators in Syria.
"We condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens demonstrating in Syria, and applaud the courage and dignity of the Syrian people," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
"We urge all parties to maintain calm and avoid violence, and call on the Syrian government to respect human rights and to allow for peaceful demonstrations."
In Daraa itself, witnesses told AFP that thousands of the faithful gathered outside the courthouse after leaving a mosque.
"Death rather than humiliation," and "National Unity," they shouted.
Chants were also directed against President Bashar al-Assad, whose highly anticipated speech to parliament on Wednesday failed to match the demands of pro-reform protests that erupted March 15.
Protests also took place for the first time in Qamishli and Amuda in the mainly Kurdish populated northeast, Kurdish rights activist Radif Mustafa told AFP.
"Friday of Martyrs" protests were also held in the coastal port of Latakia, Homs and in Darriya, near Damascus, where people chanted: "My beloved Syria, give me my freedom."
In Damascus, hundreds of protesters locked themselves up inside Al-Rifai mosque chanting "Freedom, freedom," as security forces tried to break in, a demonstrator said. Pro-regime loyalists gathered in the square opposite.
In Banias, 280 kilometres (175 miles) northwest of Damascus, about 1,000 people demonstrated without incident. Eighteen Muslim clerics issued a petition saying they "back the people's demands for reforms, liberty, the lifting of emergency law and the right to protest."
A little farther north, in the confessionally divided city of Latakia, around 200 people staged a protest without incident in the suburb of Sleibi, where rights activists reported deaths on Wednesday.
Assad, facing domestic pressure unprecedented in his 11-year rule, failed to lift almost 50 years of emergency rule in his first address to the nation since the protests began.
Instead, he said there was a "conspiracy" targeting Syrian unity.
Assad blamed Syria's "enemies" for inciting sectarian divisions in the country ruled by emergency law since the Baath party seized power in 1963.
The Syrian Revolution 2011, a wildly popular yet anonymous Facebook group that has emerged as a driving force of the protests, had called for rallies after Friday prayers.
Activists estimate that more than 160 people have been killed so far in clashes with security forces, mainly in Daraa, and in Latakia, while officials put the death toll at about 30.