Syria Protest 311.
(photo credit: Youtube)
The White House on Friday criticized attacks on protesters in Syria and urged the government to allow people to demonstrate freely.
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"The United States strongly condemns the violence that has taken place in Syria today and calls on the Syrian government to allow demonstrations to take place peacefully," White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "Those responsible for today's violence must be held accountable."
Syrian security forces killed three protesters in the southern city of Deraa on Friday, a resident said, in the first violent clashes to hit Syria since a wave of uprisings swept through the Arab world.
The demonstrators were taking part in a peaceful protest demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption in Syria, which has been ruled under emergency laws by President Bashar Assad's Baath Party for nearly half a century.
Hussam Abdel Wali Ayyash, Akram Jawabreh and Ayhem al-Hariri were among several thousand people chanting "God, Syria, Freedom" and slogans accusing the family of the president of corruption, the resident said.
They were shot dead by security forces who were reinforced with troops flown in by helicopters, he added. Scores of other demonstrators were wounded.
"The confrontations are ongoing. They are heavy," the resident told Reuters.
A video aired on Facebook showed what it described as demonstrators in Deraa shouting slogans earlier in the day against Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Assad's who owns several large businesses.
"Makhlouf you thief!" shouted dozens of demonstrators marching in the streets.
Syria's ruling hierarchy have indicated they believe they are immune from the uprisings which have toppled entrenched leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, but small nonviolent protests this week challenged their authority for the first time in years.
On Wednesday plain-clothed security forces wielding batons dispersed 150 demonstrators in central Damascus who had gathered outside the Interior Ministry to demand the release of political prisoners.
Assad, who succeeded his father 11 years ago, is also head of the Baath party, which has been in power since 1963, banning opposition and imposing the emergency law still in force.
He 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.
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.