Protesters in southern Syria 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)
DAMASCUS - At least 200 people marched in the center of Damascus after prayers on Friday in support of the city of Deraa, scene of protests against Baath Party rule, a Reuters witness said.
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"We sacrifice our blood, our soul, for you Deraa," they chanted as they were met by President Bashar Assad loyalists chanting in support of the Syrian leader.
Witnesses said secret police broke the demonstration up, arresting dozens of marchers.
Meanwhile in Deraa, small crowds gathered on Friday after calls to attend the funerals of people killed in unprecedented anti-government protests, but there was no immediate sign of protests.
Activists said there was debate among people assembled at Deraa's main
Omari mosque whether a rally should be organized following the killing
of at least 44 people in a police crackdown on the unrest that erupted a
"There is a sense of demoralization among the
protesters, especially if no other cities in Syria rise up," said a
resident of the city in southern Syria near the border with Jordan.
Deraa was on
edge but calm before noon prayers as President Bashar Assad's loyalists
began to organise rallies to counter the rage that engulfed Deraa after
the bloodshed that rattled a country in the iron grip of the Baath Party
for almost 50 years.
A large procession of cars coursed through
Deraa's streets honking horns and raising pictures of the president.
There were pro-Assad congregations in other parts of the city.
in Deraa echoed throughout the morning with the calls of imams to the
faithful to attend funerals of some of the civilians killed, most of
them when security forces fired on demonstrators in the mainly Sunni
Muslim city on Wednesday.
A Facebook page called Syrian
Revolution called on people to gather on the "Friday of Dignity" after
prayers, "in all mosques, in all provinces, in the biggest squares".
similar calls over the past two months have not generated serious
rallies that could threaten the grip of Assad, who succeeded his late
father, Hafez al-Assad, 11 years ago.
Bashar al-Assad promised on
Thursday to look into granting Syrians greater freedoms in an attempt
to defuse the outbreak of popular demands for political freedoms and an
end to corruption.
They were inspired by uprisings across the Arab world that have toppled the entrenched leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
Assad's gesture, which included a pledge to look into ending emergency
law and an offer of large public pay rises, thousands of Syrians later
turned out at the Omari mosque to chant "freedom, revolution".
hospital official said at least 37 people were killed in Deraa on
Wednesday when security forces fired on demonstrators in the
impoverished provincial city.
The funeral of at least five people was scheduled on Friday.
security forces pulled out on Thursday from the mosque where several
people were killed. People later converged on the mosque to celebrate
its "liberation", setting off fireworks and honking car horns.