Syrian forces kill three protesters in southern city

Scores wounded in the first violent clashes to hit country since a wave of uprisings swept through the Arab world.

March 18, 2011 19:38
2 minute read.

Assad 311 reuters. (photo credit: reuters)

DAMASCUS - Syrian security forces killed three protesters in the southern city of Deraa on Friday, a resident said, in the first violent clashes to hit Syria since a wave of uprisings swept through the Arab world.

The demonstrators were taking part in a peaceful protest demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption in Syria, which has been ruled under emergency laws by President Bashar Assad's Baath Party for nearly half a century.

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Hussam Abdel Wali Ayyash, Akram Jawabreh and Ayhem al-Hariri were among several thousand people chanting "God, Syria, Freedom" and slogans accusing the family of the president of corruption, the resident said.

They were shot dead by security forces who were reinforced with troops flown in by helicopters, he added. Scores of other demonstrators were wounded.

"The confrontations are ongoing. They are heavy," the resident told Reuters.

A video aired on Facebook showed what it described as demonstrators in Deraa shouting slogans earlier in the day against Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Assad's who owns several large businesses.

"Makhlouf you thief!" shouted dozens of demonstrators marching in the streets.

Syria's ruling hierarchy have indicated they believe they are immune from the uprisings which have toppled entrenched leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, but small nonviolent protests this week challenged their authority for the first time in years.

On Wednesday plain-clothed security forces wielding batons dispersed 150 demonstrators in central Damascus who had gathered outside the Interior Ministry to demand the release of political prisoners.

Assad, who succeeded his father 11 years ago, is also head of the Baath party, which has been in power since 1963, banning opposition and imposing the emergency law still in force.

He said in an interview published in January that Syria's ruling hierarchy was "very closely linked to the beliefs of the people" and that there was no mass discontent against the state.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has said Syria's authorities were among the worst violators of human rights in 2010, jailing lawyers, torturing opponents and using violence to repress ethnic Kurds.

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