Syrian Kurds protest in Qamishli 311 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters)
AMMAN - Thousands of protesters took to the streets across Syria on
Friday despite concessions offered by Syrian President Bashar Assad in
an attempt to placate a month-long wave of unrest challenging his
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Shouting "God, Syria, Freedom," protesters repeated the same demand for democratic reform and freedoms across many cities.
Thursday Assad unveiled a new government, which has little power in the
one-party ruled country, and ordered the release of detainees, a move
one human rights lawyer said represented a "drop in the ocean" compared
to the thousands of political prisoners still held.
But the concessions did not appear to satisfy protesters, who gathered in even larger numbers on the Muslim day of prayer.
activists reported protests in the city of Deir al-Zor near the Iraqi
border, the restive coastal city of Banias and in the southern city of
Deraa, where protesters first demonstrated against the detention of
teenagers who had scrawled graffiti inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia
"Demonstrations came out from every mosque in the
city, including the Omari mosque... The number of people is above 10,000
protesters so far," an activist said by phone from Deraa.
The protest movement against Assad's repressive rule has steadily gained momentum since it began four weeks ago.
groups say at least 200 people have been killed since the protests
started. Authorities blame "armed groups" for stirring up unrest at the
bidding of outside players, including Lebanon and Islamist groups.
state television reported what it said were several peaceful
demonstrations, including at Deraa and Deir al-Zor, where it reported
two small processions of less than 50 people.
250 people called for freedom in the capital Damascus' Barzeh district
in front of the Salam mosque, an activist said. Emergency law in force
since the Baath Party swept to power in a coup in 1963 bans public
gatherings of more than five people.
The biggest gatherings -- and the most bloody -- have been after Friday
prayers. Witnesses say security forces fire routinely at protesters, who
first called for more freedom but increased their demands to "the
downfall of the regime" as the crackdown, which includes mass arrests,
The protests, once unthinkable in the tightly-controlled
country known for its heavy-handed security apparatus, have damaged the
prestige of Assad, who took power when his father died in 2000 after
ruling Syria for 30 years.'This is not Hama'
are sectarian overtones to the tensions arising from the protests.
Rights campaigners said Alawite irregulars, loyal to Assad and known as
"al-shabbiha", killed four people in the coastal city of Banias and also
quelled protests elsewhere.
Assad has said his country -- which
is at the heart of the Middle East conflict -- was the target of a
foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian strife.
His father used similar language when he crushed a leftist and Islamist challenge to his iron rule in the 1980s.
is not 1982 Hama. The uprising is not confined to a single area," a
leading opposition figure said, referring to an attack by Hafez Assad's
forces to crush an armed revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama that
killed up to 30,000 people.
Assad has tried to face down the
protests, which have spread from Deraa to the Mediterranean coast, the
Kurdish east and central Homs province.
He has used force,
promises of reform, including a salary increase for public workers, a
reconsideration of the emergency rule that has been in place for 48
years and concessions to minority Kurds and conservative Muslims.
his decision last Thursday to grant citizenship to tens of thousands of
stateless Kurds, as well as announcements about lifting a ban on veiled
teachers and closing Syria's sole casino, failed to prevent protests
erupting the next day.
Rights campaigners say the protests have
been inspired by intensifying repression over the last several years and
by uprisings which toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and challenged
others from North Africa to the Gulf.
Demonstrators have been
seeking an end to emergency law, which has banned all opposition and
used to justify arbitrary arrests. A panel drafting anti-terrorism
legislation to replace emergency law is expected to complete its work by
Critics say the new law will probably grant the state much of the same powers contained in the current legislation.