Syrian forces fire at thousand of protesters in Homs

US State Department spokesman says US is not working to undermine Syrian gov't; demonstrators continue to call for "overthrow of regime."

By REUTERS
April 19, 2011 09:05
2 minute read.
Syrians shout "freedom" during a protest

Syrian protests. (photo credit: REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)

 
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AMMAN - Syrian forces fired shots at hundreds of protesters who had gathered overnight in Homs city in defiance of warning by the authorities to halt what they called an insurrection, a rights campaigner said on Tuesday.

A member of the security police addressed the protesters at Clock Square through a loud speaker asking them to leave, and then the forces opened fire, said the human rights campaigner, who is in contact with protesters in the square.

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Tear gas was also used. At least one protester was injured, the activist added. Two residents of Homs also said they heard the sound of gunfire coming from around the square.

Several hours earlier, Syrian state television broadcast an interior ministry statement that described the wave of unrest in Syria as an insurrection, pointing specifically to Homs as one of two cities where "armed groups belonging to Salafist organizations" were trying to terrorize the population.

The interior ministry statement said Salafist groups were trying "to spread terror across Syria ... using the march of freedom and reform that was launched according to a timetable by President [Bashar] Assad in his guiding speech".

Assad announced on Saturday that he would end nearly half a century of emergency rule with legislation that should be in place by next week, but his pledge did little to appease protesters calling for political freedoms.

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Rights campaigners say more than 200 people have been killed since the protests began.

Syrian authorities have intensified bans on independent media since protests challenging the authoritarian rule of Assad erupted more than a month ago.

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No independent media is allowed into Homs or other cities witnessing unprecedented pro-democracy demonstrations. Several international journalists have been expelled or arrested.

Thousands demanded the overthrow of Assad on Monday at the funerals of 17 protesters killed in Homs, 165 km (100 miles) north of Damascus. Human rights campaigners said the 17 had been killed late on Sunday during protests against the death in custody of a tribal leader in Homs.

Syria has repeatedly blamed the unrest on foreign powers, and the Washington Post reported on Monday that the United States has secretly funded Syrian opposition groups.

The State Department said on Monday that the United States was not working to undermine the Syrian government, but trying to support democratic goals as it does elsewhere in the world.

The Washington Post cited diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showing that the State Department had funneled up to $6 million since 2006 to Syrian exiles to operate a London-based satellite TV channel and finance activities inside Syria.

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