Thousands mourn Syrian Kurd opposition figure

50,000 turn out to bury charismatic critic of Assad, Meshaal al-Tammo; government forces fire on funeral, killing two.

By REUTERS
October 9, 2011 01:34
3 minute read.
Kurds protest Assad in Syrian town Qamishli

Kurd Protest Syria 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

BEIRUT  – Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds called on Saturday for the overthrow of President Bashar Assad during the funeral in eastern Syria of Meshaal al-Tammo, a Kurdish opposition figure who was killed a day earlier.

Syrian security forces killed at least two people when they opened fire on the mourners, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. At least two people were killed and three were wounded when the funeral came under fire, the organization added. It estimated that 50,000 people had turned out for the funeral.

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Security forces also opened fire on a funeral procession for three people who were killed on Friday in the Damascus suburb of Douma, killing one mourner and wounding 10, the group said.

At least eight people were killed in anti-Assad protests after Friday prayers.

Tammo, a charismatic figure who was released from prison earlier this year, was a critic of Assad who had also angered powerful Kurdish parties because of his criticism of Kurdish rivals. The United States has condemned his killing.

Activists said on Friday that four gunmen burst into a house in the city of Qamishli, shot dead Tammo and wounded his son. It was not clear who was behind the attack.

One activist said he feared the killing might encourage Kurds to take up arms against Assad forces, pushing the country closer to civil war.

“This is a terrorist attack, a terrorist assassination.

The Kurds might feel they want to avenge. We are very angry,” said a Kurdish activist who declined to be named.

Video footage broadcast by Al Jazeera television showed Tammo’s coffin being carried on people’s shoulders wrapped in a Kurdish flag and covered with flowers.

“Leave, Leave,” the mourners chanted.

Fares al-Tammo, Meshaal’s son, told Al Jazeera from Erbil in northern Iraq that the Kurds were angry and blamed the Syrian authorities for his father’s death.

“This blood is precious to them [Kurds], they will not give up until the regime is overthrown and the execution of Bashar Assad,” he said.

Activists in Damascus said Syrian authorities stepped up security in Kurdish areas in the capital.

Kurds make up about 10 percent of Syria’s 20 million population, and largely support the uprising against Assad.

Ethnic Kurds have long complained of discrimination and staged violent protests against Assad in 2004. They are not allowed to teach Kurdish in schools or to set up Kurdish radio stations.

While Assad has sent troops and tanks to crush protests against him which erupted in March, he also promised reforms. He has ended a state of emergency and promised parliamentary elections in February.

He tried to pacify the Kurds by giving citizenship to tens of thousands of them, and casualties in the Kurdish areas remained the lowest.

Many of Assad’s opponents say his reform promises are hollow and that his government has forfeited all legitimacy after killing at least 2,900 civilians, by a UN count.

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