'12 killed in Syrian protests; lawmakers, cleric resign'

Witnesses say gov't forces fire live rounds at protesters in Douma, Izra'a; 2 lawmakers, gov't appointed mufti in Deraa resign in protest.

By REUTERS
April 23, 2011 18:32
Syrian protesters in Deraa hoisting large flag

Syrian protesters in Deraa hoisting large flag 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

At least 12 people were killed during a funeral for pro-democracy protesters in Syria, human rights group Sawasiah said Saturday. Syrian forces shot dead three people in the Damascus district of Barzeh on Saturday at a mass funeral of pro-democracy protesters killed a day earlier, a local human rights campaigner said.

Witnesses said mourners were chanting "People want the fall of the regime" and "Bashar, you coward, take your soldiers to Golan," in reference to the Golan Heights where the frontier with Israel has been quiet since a 1974 ceasefire.

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Two Syrian lawmakers on Saturday told al-Jazeera television that they were resigning in protest of the killing of demonstrators by regime security forces.

"After I have failed to protect my sons from the treacherous shots there is no point in me staying in parliament. I announce now that I am stepping down," lawmaker Naser al-Hariri said.

Lawmaker Khalil al-Rifaei joined his colleague Hariri, both representatives of the troubled city of Deraa, and announced his resignation on air, saying it was because of the killings of pro-democracy protesters.

"Security solutions do not work," Rifaei said.

Hours later, Deraa's government-appointed mufti, or Muslim preacher, joined the lawmakers in announcing his resignation.

Being assigned to give fatwas (religious edicts), I submit my resignation as a result of the fall of victims and martyrs by police fire," Rezq Abdulrahman Abazeid told al-Jazeera television. "When they announce at high levels that (protesters) will not be shot at, we see that the truth on the ground is not like that," he said.

Abazeid is the first Syrian religious leader to resign in connection with the current violent suppression of protest.

Security forces open fire on funeral processions

Witnesses in Douma said that security opened fire at a funeral procession, killing at least four people.

According to the witnesses, over 50,000 people were participating in the mass funeral in the Douma suburb when security forces began shooting.

"I saw three people falling on the ground, one of them had blood gushing from his mouth. I could not tell whether he was hit in the stomach or the chest," one of the witnesses said.

A second witness said pall bearers abandoned coffins they were carrying and ran for cover when the funeral came under fire.

In another funeral near the town of Izra'a in southern Syria, two witnesses said at least three people were killed when security forces opened fire.

They said hundreds of mourners, dispersed by live ammunition outside Izra'a, were shot at when they approached a checkpoint at the Sheikh Maskeen road juncture as they headed back to the southern border city of Deraa.

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Earlier Saturday, tens of thousands of chanting Syrians demanded the "overthrow of the regime" during the funerals for scores of people killed by security forces in the country's bloodiest pro-democracy protests, witnesses said.

Funerals were held in Damascus and at least one of its suburbs and in the southern village of Izra'a, where mourners also chanted "[Syrian President] Bashar Assad, you traitor. Long live Syria, down with Bashar."

A group of activists coordinating the demonstrations said regular forces and gunman loyal to Assad shot dead at least 88 civilians on Friday. Rights groups had earlier put the death toll at a minimum of 70.

Friday's violence brings the death toll to about 300, according to rights activists, since the unrest which broke out on March 18 in the southern city of Deraa.

Protests swept the country on Friday, from the Mediterranean city of Banias to the eastern cities of Deir al-Zor and Qamishli. In Damascus, security forces fired teargas to disperse 2,000 protesters in the district of Midan.

Syrian television said eight people were killed and 28 wounded, including army personnel, in attacks by armed groups in Izra'a. It said an armed group had attacked a military base in the Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group sent Reuters a list with names of 88 people classified by region. The group said they were killed in areas stretching from the port city of Latakia to Homs, Hama, Damascus and the southern village of Izra'a.

UN, US, France condemn violence against demonstrators


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday condemned violence against Syrian citizens by authorities and called for a "transparent and independent" inquiry into the death of the protesters.

“The secretary-general condemns the ongoing violence against peaceful demonstrators in Syria, and calls for it to stop immediately,” said UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.

US President Barack Obama condemned Friday's violence and accused Assad of seeking help from Iran.

"This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now," Obama said in a statement. "Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens...."

France's Foreign Ministry said Paris was "deeply concerned".

"Syrian authorities must give up the use of violence against their citizens. We again call on them to commit without delay to an inclusive political dialogue and to achieve the reforms legitimately demanded by the Syrian people."

Those killed were among tens of thousands of people who have taken to the streets of cities and rural areas across Syria calling for the overthrow of the regime, demands which have hardened over recent weeks.

Friday's protests went ahead despite Assad's decision this week to lift the country's hated emergency law, in place since his Baath Party seized power 48 years ago.

A statement by the Local Coordination Committees said the end of emergency law was futile without the release of thousands of political prisoners -- most held without trial -- and the dismantling of the security apparatus.

In their first joint statement since the protests erupted last month, the activists said the abolition of the Baath Party's monopoly on power and the establishment of a democratic political system was central to ending repression in Syria.


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