Pro-reform protesters take to streets in Syria

As demonstrations were taking place, Syrian FM Walid Muallem was quoted as saying that political reforms would be implemented this year.

By JERUSALEM POST STAFF, REUTERS
March 16, 2011 02:24
2 minute read.
Protests in Syria

Syria Protest 311. (photo credit: Youtube)

 
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Several dozen people joined a rare Syrian protest on Tuesday, chanting political slogans in central Damascus before dispersing, a witness said.

Civil unrest has swept countries across the Arab world, overthrowing the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and leading to bloody confrontations in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.

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Syrian President Bashar Assad, who succeeded his father 11 years ago, has said there was no chance the political upheaval shaking the Arab world would spread to Syria.

The witness said the protest occurred shortly after noon prayers.

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A short YouTube video showed a few dozen people marching down Hameediyeh, near the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus' old city, clapping and chanting "God, Syria, freedom -- that's enough." The crowd also chanted "Peaceful, Peaceful", heard in protests that brought down Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak last month.



A voice in the background said: "The date is (March) 15 ... This is the first obvious uprising against the Syrian regime ... Alawite or Sunni, all kinds of Syrians, we want to bring down the regime".

As protests were taking place, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was quoted by AFP as saying that political reforms would be implemented this year.

At a press conference with Spanish counterpart Trinidad Jimenez, Moallem said Syria will take steps towards introducing political reforms “this year." According to Saudi TV network Al Arabiya, protests took place not only in Damascus, but also in Haleb and Deir a Zur.

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Since mass uprisings overthrew Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine al- Abidine Ben Ali, Syrian authorities have intensified a long-running campaign of arrests of dissidents and opposition figures. The Baath party, in power since 1963, bans opposition and imposes emergency law.

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.

Earlier this month the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 13 political prisoners had gone on hunger strike to protest against "political detentions and oppression" in their country.

One of the prisoners, 80-year-old former judge Haitham al-Maleh, was later released under an amnesty marking the anniversary of the 1963 coup which brought the Baath party to power.

Officials say political prisoners in Syria have violated the constitution and that outside criticism of the state's human rights record is interference in Syria's affairs.

President Assad 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.

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