Protests across Syria demand end of Assad’s rule


Thousands of Syrians took to the street across the country on Friday to protest against a bloody military crackdown designed to crush a 13-week pro-democracy uprising that has demanded the president’s departure, witnesses and activists said.

“Tell the world Bashar (Al Assad) is without legitimacy,” shouted several thousand protesters in the Damascus suburb of Irbin, an eyewitness said, the chants echoing over the phone.

In the central cities of Homs and Hama protesters shouted “the people want the downfall of the regime,” while in Deraa, the cradle of the uprising, protesters carried banners rejecting a vague promise of dialogue made by Assad in a speech this week. Similar protests erupted on the coast, and in the eastern provinces of Qamishli and Deir al-Zor, on the border with Iraq’s Sunni heartland.

Security forces Friday opened fire on demonstrators in the town of Kiswah, south of Damascus, injuring unknown number of people, witnesses said.

“The security forces opened fire to disperse demonstrators in Kiswah and there are reports of injuries” among the protesters, Rami Abdel Rahman, of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.

The Facebook group Syrian Revolution 2011, one of the motors of the protests, has called on Syrians to stage more rallies after the main Friday Muslim prayers.

The theme for the protests, it said, is “Bashar is no longer my president and his government no longer represents me.”

International condemnation on Damascus was mounting steadily. The European Union announced Thursday it was slapping new sanctions on the Syrian regime and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Damascus to pull its troops back from the Turkish border, where concerns grew of possible confrontations with Turkish troops.

Citing residents on the ground, Syria-based human rights activist Mustafa Osso said, the military has deployed heavily in areas across the border from Turkey and set up checkpoints. He said the few thousand people who had been on the Syrian side of the border had all fled into Turkey.

“The few who did not were arrested,” he said, adding 100 people were arrested in the past two days.

Anticipating an exodus from Syria’s second city, Aleppo, Turkish officials were setting up a sixth camp with up to 800 tents near a border crossing.

The Syrian opposition says 1,400 people have been killed in a relentless government crackdown on dissent. The Syrian regime blames foreign conspirators and thugs for the unrest, but the protesters deny any foreign influence in their movement, during which they say authorities have detained 10,000 people.

On Thursday, Syrian soldiers patrolled in military vehicles and on foot around the border village of Khirbet al-Jouz, according to Associated Press journalists who watched their movements from the Turkish side. The Local Coordinating Committees said residents reported tanks had entered the village and snipers were spotted on rooftops Thursday.

Syria has banned all but a few foreign journalists and restricted local media, making it nearly impossible to independently confirm the accounts.

(Mustapha Ajbaili, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at [email protected])