Friday, December 30, 2011

Ten dead as Syrians stage mass protests

Clashes erupted in Syria on Friday as hundreds of thousands filled the streets to demonstrate against the government of President Bashar al-Assad and activists said at least 10 people were shot dead.
Demonstrators determined to show the strength of their movement to Arab League monitors deployed in hotspots across the country threw rocks at security forces in the Damascus suburb of Douma where troops tear-gassed the chanting crowds.
Five people were shot dead in the city of Hama and five in the city of Deraa in the south.
"Five were martyred today and at least 20 wounded when the Syrian security forces opened fire," the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, referring to Hama.
It said security forces fired at tens of thousands of protesters in the northern province of Idlib, wounding 25.
At least two dozen were injured in the Damascus suburb of Douma, activists said. One report said army defectors in Douma were engaged in armed clashes with troops. There were no further details.
Some 250,000 gathered after Friday's Muslim prayer in the northern province of Idlib at 74 different locations, according to the Observatory, an opposition network relaying activist reports.
"This Friday is different from any other Friday. It is a transformative step. People are eager to reach the monitors and tell them about their suffering," said activist Abu Hisham in Hama.
In Homs, the city at the centre of nine months of revolt, Al Jazeera television showed a huge crowd of dancing protesters who appeared to be in the thousands.
"Revolution, revolution Syria, revolution of glory and freedom Syria," they shouted.
In the Damascus suburb of Barzeh, where large crowds had also gathered, protesters held up signs saying "The Monitors are witnesses who don't see anything," and shouted, "Bashar we don't want you, Syrians raise your hands."
Activists in the city of Idlib said the army had put its heavy weapons out of sight.
"Security forces have moved some of their tanks out of the neighborhood streets and have put them behind buildings further out," said Manhal, a member of the local coordination committee. "They have also moved the tanks out of main streets. Some of them they moved into dugouts."
Assad has signed up to an Arab League plan for a verifiable withdrawal of his heavy weaponry and army from turbulent Syrian cities where more than 5,000 people have been killed since March, many shot during peaceful anti-government protests but also many killed in rebel attacks and defense actions.
The Arab League mission has met with strong skepticism from the outset, over its makeup, its small numbers, its reliance on Syrian government logistics and an initial assessment by its Sudanese chief that the situation was "reassuring."
That comment was met with disbelief in the West on Wednesday but on Friday, Syria's ally Russia accepted the judgment.
"Judging by the public statements made by the chief of the mission (Sudanese general Mustafa) al-Dabi, who in the first of his visits went to the city of Homs ... the situation seems to be reassuring," the Foreign Ministry said on its website.
However on Friday al-Dabi, whom some link to war crimes in Darfur in the 1990s, backed away from his comments. They were "unfounded and not true" a mission statement said, and all future statements would be in writing.
Activist video from Homs over the months has depicted a trail of death and destruction sowed by the military, with hundreds of killings of civilians reported.
"Unfortunately, reports show that the violence has continued in Syria over the past few days," Britain's Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, said.
"I urge the Syrian government to meet fully its obligations to the Arab League, including immediately ending the repression and withdrawing security forces from cities. The Syrian government must allow the Arab League mission independent and unrestricted access ..." Burt said.
In Brussels, a spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU also "urges Syria to comply with the action plan of the Arab league in all its(...)More.

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