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Thousands call for freedom in Syria
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 02 - 04 - 2011

DAMASCUS (Update 3) - Syrian forces killed at least three protesters in a Damascus, as thousands turned out in pro-democracy marches despite a reform gesture by President Bashar Al Assad.
Activists said Syrians took to the streets after Friday prayers in the capital Damascus, Homs to the north of the capital, Banias on the coast, Latakia port and the southern city of Deraa, where the unprecedented protests challenging Assad's 11 years in power began in March.
Witnesses in the Damascus suburb of Douma said the three killed were among at least 2,000 people who chanted “Freedom. Freedom. One, one, one. The Syrian people are one,” when police opened fire to disperse them from Municipality Square.
An official source said via state news agency SANA “armed groups” had positioned themselves on rooftops and opened fire on citizens and security forces gathered in Douma, killing and wounding dozens.
SANA said a group had also opened fire on a gathering in the Bayyada district of the western city of Homs, killing a girl, adding soldiers had also come under fire in Deraa.
In his first public appearance since the demonstrations began, Assad declined on Wednesday to spell out any reforms, especially the lifting of a 48-year-old emergency law that has been used to stifle opposition and justify arbitrary arrests.
“There is no confidence. President Assad talks about reform and does nothing,” said Montaha Al Atrash, board member of the independent Syrian human rights organisation Sawasiah.
In Deraa, thousands of people gathered at Serail Square, chanting slogans denouncing hints by Assad's to replace emergency law with anti-terrorism legislation and describing rich relatives of the president as “thieves”.
Music played from loudspeakers, including the song “Where are the millions?” by Lebanese singer Julia Boutrous. Secret police and regular police forces kept their distance but the army maintained heavy presence around Deraa, including tanks.
Assad, who became president after his father Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, had predicted the popular revolts seen in Tunisia and Egypt would not spread to Syria, saying the ruling hierarchy was “very closely linked to the beliefs of the people”.
More than 60 people have been killed in the unrest, which could have wider repercussions since Syria has an anti-Israel alliance with Iran and supports Hamas and Hezbollah.
SANA news agency acknowledged for the first time on Friday that worshippers in Deraa and Latakia, scene of protests and deadly clashes last week, had gathered after Friday prayers to call for accelerated reforms.
It had earlier reported calm across the country, adding there had been peaceful calls for reform and several gatherings supporting “national unity and ... stability”.
A witness said security forces and Assad loyalists attacked about 200 worshippers with batons as they marched outside the Refaie mosque in the Kfar Sousseh district of Damascus, chanting slogans in support of the Deraa protesters.

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