Syrian security forces 'open fire' on mass protest
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Syrian security forces fired on demonstrators Tuesday as they staged a mass rally in the central city of Homs, just hours after the government vowed to suppress widespread protests in the country, saying it was faced with an “armed revolt”.
AFP - Syrian security forces Tuesday fired on a mass protest of thousands in the city of Homs demanding the fall of the regime, hours after the authorities vowed to suppress an "armed revolt" in the country.
"The sit-in was dispersed with force. There was heavy gunfire," an activist reached by telephone in Damascus told AFP, without being able to give details of possible casualties.
He said the security forces very early Tuesday swarmed into Al-Saa Square, where some 20,000 people were staging a mass sit-in, scattering protesters who had vowed not to leave until President Bashar al-Assad stepped down.
The action came just hours after the government late on Monday vowed to suppress "armed revolt" it said was undermining security in the country.
"The latest incidents have shown that... armed Salafist groups, particularly in the cities of Homs and Banias, have openly called for armed revolt," said an interior ministry statement carried by the official SANA news agency.
It accused such groups of killing soldiers, policemen and civilians, and of attacking public and private property, and warned that "their terrorist activities will not be tolerated."
The authorities "will act with determination to impose security and stability in the country" and will "pursue the terrorists wherever they are in order to bring them to justice and end the armed revolt", it said.
The demonstrators arrived in their thousands at Al-Saa Square on Monday, many setting up tents, a day after 11 people were killed by security forces in Homs and a nearby town during a day of massive nationwide protest.
Inspired by popular uprisings which toppled hardline rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, the protesters vowed not to leave Al-Saa Square in the centre of Homs until Assad's regime fell.
They dismissed as insufficient a weekend pledge by Assad that he would lift nearly five decades of draconian emergency law and demanded the release of all political prisoners and an end to arbitrary arrests.
"More than 20,000 people are taking part in the sit-in at Al-Saa Square (Clock Square) and we have renamed it Tahrir Square like the one in Cairo," rights activist Najati Tayyara had earlier told AFP from Homs.
The sit-in protest was a copy of demonstrations in Egypt which forced out veteran president Hosni Mubarak in February after 18 days of protests in Cairo's emblematic Tahrir Square.
"It is an open-ended sit-in which will continue until all our demands are satisfied," Tayyara said.
"This despotic regime must change. We have been waiting for 11 years for reforms," said Tayyara of the 11-year rule of Assad, who succeeded his autocratic father Hafez following his death in 2000.
The embattled Assad, facing unprecedented popular protests since March 15, pledged on Saturday to lift the emergency law imposed by the ruling Baath Party when it seized power in 1963.
His promise to end martial law and bring in a new government tasked with implementing reform was deemed insufficient by activists who also want an end to the iron-fisted rule of the Baath party.
A sea of mourners swamped Homs on Monday, carrying shoulder-high above the crowds seven coffins, some open, and others covered with Syrian flags.
Many mourners, clapping their hands, called for "the fall of the regime" and "freedom" as they paid tribute to the "martyrs," activists said.
Anger has swept through Homs since the announcement on Saturday that a Muslim cleric, Sheikh Faraj Abu Mussa, who was arrested a week earlier, had died in custody.
On Monday demonstrations also gripped the protest hub of Daraa in the south and Jisr al-Shoughour near the northwestern city of Idleb, activists and witnesses said.
Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Syria will proceed with reforms as promised, but warned against "sabotage" by protesters, SANA reported.
At least 200 people have been killed by security forces or plain-clothes police since the start of the protest movement, according to Amnesty International.