Three protesters killed as Syria unrest flares anew

Three protesters killed as Syria unrest flares anew
# 02 April 2011 00:36 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Syrian security forces killed at least three protesters in a Damascus suburb on Friday, witnesses said, as popular unrest flared anew in several cities despite a reform gesture by President Bashar al-Assad, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
Syria’s state news agency acknowledged for the first time on Friday that worshippers in Deraa and Latakia, scene of protests and deadly clashes last week, had gathered after Friday prayers to call for accelerated reforms.
"A number of worshippers left some mosques in the cities of Deraa and Latakia, chanting slogans in honor of the martyr and calling for speeding up measures for reform ... There were no clashes between worshippers and security forces in these gatherings," SANA said.
Witnesses in the Damascus suburb of Douma said the three killed were among at least 2,000 people who chanted "Freedom. Freedom. One, one, one. The Syrian people are one," when police opened fire to disperse them from Municipality Square.
Two weeks of unprecedented unrest in the tightly controlled Arab state has left more than 60 dead and posed the gravest challenge to almost 50 years of monolithic Baath Party rule.
The turmoil could have wider repercussions since Syria is in the thick of the Middle East conflict, maintaining an anti-Israel alliance with Iran and supporting the militant movements Hamas and Hezbollah.
Earlier, civic activists said protest marches had begun in the capital Damascus, Banias and the port city of Latakia against Assad’s authoritarian rule after he stopped short of a clear commitment to meet popular demands for more freedoms.
Security forces and Assad loyalists attacked protesters with batons as they left the Rifaii mosque in the Kfar Sousseh district of Damascus after Friday prayers, a witness said.
At least six protesters were arrested and dozens were beaten as they made their way out of the mosque, the witness told Reuters by telephone from the mosque complex.
Around 200 worshippers chanted slogans in support of the southern city of Deraa where the unrest kindled by pro-democracy uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world first erupted.
Online democracy activists had called for protests across Syria on "Martyrs’ Friday," after a spate of pro-democracy demonstrations challenging Assad’s 11 years in power. His father, Hafez al-Assad, had ruled over the previous 30 years.
Activists said security forces and Assad loyalists had earlier gathered in force around the mosques where protests resumed after Friday prayers.
In his first public appearance since the demonstrations began, Assad declined on Wednesday to spell out any reforms, especially the lifting of a 48-year-old emergency law that has been used to stifle opposition and justify arbitrary arrests.
On Thursday he ordered the creation of a panel that would draft anti-terrorism legislation to replace emergency law, a move critics have dismissed, saying they expect the new legislation will give the state much of the same powers.