Syria takes hard line on protests

Demonstrators march Friday in Daraa, Syria. Security forces in Daraa fired live ammunition Saturday to disperse a funeral march for the victims killed in Friday’s protests, witnesses said.

Associated Press

Demonstrators march Friday in Daraa, Syria. Security forces in Daraa fired live ammunition Saturday to disperse a funeral march for the victims killed in Friday’s protests, witnesses said.

Syrian security forces fired on mourners at a funeral for slain protesters Saturday as authorities vowed to crush any new unrest from a three-week uprising that showed no sign of letting up even as the death toll topped 170.

Activists vowed to accelerate their movement with daily protests nationwide, bringing new pressure on President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime. Assad has answered the tens of thousands of protesters with both force and limited concessions that have failed to appease an emboldened movement inspired by the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

"Old-style crackdowns and techniques simply do not work anymore," said Aktham Nuaisse, a prominent Syrian pro-democracy activist. "The first thing authorities must do is stop this violence and enact serious reforms. Failing that, I fear everyone is going to lose control of the situation."

Protests erupted in Syria three weeks ago and have been growing steadily every week — and have even rattled the key port city of Latakia in the heartland of the Alawite minority to which Assad and the ruling elite belong. Early Saturday, security forces fired live ammunition to disperse hundreds of protesters in Latakia, witnesses said.

Friday marked what appeared to be the largest and most widespread gatherings so far with demonstrations across the nation demanding sweeping reforms — and it brought the single bloodiest day of the uprising, with 37 killed around the country. Most of the deaths were in Daraa, an impoverished city near the Jordanian border that has become the epicenter of the protest movement.

Security forces in Daraa fired live ammunition Saturday to disperse a funeral march for the victims, wounding several people, said Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria's National Organization for Human Rights.

Qurabi, who lives in exile in Egypt, said his group's information came from residents and witnesses in the city.

Further details on the shooting were not immediately available. Telephone calls to Daraa were not going through, and the Syrian government has placed severe restrictions on media coverage in the country.

Yemen

Government forces shot bullets and tear gas and threw rocks at demonstrators in Sana, Yemen's capital, and in the southern city of Taiz on Saturday as longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh resisted a diplomatic push for the resignation that hundreds of thousands of his own people were demanding in the streets. Dr. Wasim al-Qurshi, who was treating the injured at a makeshift first aid station in Sana, said that 11 people were shot, including one man shot in the head, and that dozens of others were injured by tear gas or in stampedes. In Taiz, presidential guard units clashed with protesters, firing bullets and spraying plumes of tear gas into crowds of tens of thousands marching next to an elementary school, activist Nouh al-Wafi said. More than 120 people have been killed since protests began Feb. 11.

Egypt

Security forces shot and killed at least two protesters and injured dozens more in a predawn attempt Saturday to disperse peaceful demonstrators spending the night in the capital's iconic Tahrir Square, according to government security officials and witnesses. The crackdown in Cairo was the most brutal since the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11 and since the military started running the country. The military Saturday denied that anyone had been killed. It also said the forces in the square were police officers under the control of the Interior Ministry. The Ministry of Health, however, reported that one person had died. Protesters regained control of the square by sunrise Saturday, forcing security forces back under a barrage of stones and setting fire to three of their vehicles, and thousands gathered to chant slogans against the military.

Bahrain

Two supporters of Bahrain's antigovernment movement died in police custody Saturday after physical abuse at the hands of security officials, activists said. The Interior Ministry said the body of Rashid Zakaria Hassan, 40, was found in a detention facility and a medical examiner determined that he died of complications from sickle-cell anemia. Hassan was detained April 2 on charges of "inciting hatred, publishing false news, promoting sectarianism and calling for overthrowing of the regime" on social networking sites, the Interior Ministry said. Another detainee, Ali Isa Saqer, 31, died on Saturday in police custody after "creating chaos at the detention center" and resisting arrest, the ministry said.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

Syria takes hard line on protests 04/09/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 9, 2011 10:47pm]

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