Syrians march, meeting Turkey to battle Assad

Tens of thousands of Syrians marched through the streets of Syria's capital, Damascus, on Saturday while opposition figures meeting in Turkey called for a united front to bring down the 40-year ruling dynasty of the Assad family.

Citing unnamed witnesses, the Associated Press reported that tens of thousands from Damascus and its suburbs held funerals for 28 protesters killed Friday in the largest protests since the uprising began four months ago. The witnesses said marchers carried the bodies overhead on stretchers and shouted God is great and we want freedom.

Haitham al-Maleh, one of Syria's most prominent dissidents, who led Saturday's opposition conference in Istanbul, Turkey, said, "The regime has kidnapped the entire state, and we want it back." The 80-year-old lawyer has spent years in Syrian prisons for his political activism.

Syria's crackdown on the protests has led to international condemnation and sanctions. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday that President Bashar Assad had dashed hopes of reform.

"The brutality has to stop, there must be a legitimate, sincere effort with the opposition to try to make changes," she said in Istanbul.

Activists say 1,600 people, most unarmed, have died since March in the government's crackdown. But the regime disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, saying religious extremists — not true reform-seekers — are behind it.

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Syrians march, meeting Turkey to battle Assad 07/16/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 17, 2011 12:49am]

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