Thousands of Syrians flood streets for ‘day of rage’

2011-04-29 14:34

Thousands of Syrians poured into the streets for a “day of rage” after Friday Muslim prayers, defying warnings by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of a harsh crackdown on demonstrations.

By mid-afternoon, protests were taking place in most major centres around the country, witnesses said, in a repeat of pro-democracy rallies that have become the norm after the weekly prayers.

Dissidents say the security force action including the firing of teargas and live rounds has killed more than 450 people since mid-March.

Friday’s protests, with the prospect of yet more killing, comes as the UN Human Rights Council held a special session on Syria in Geneva and the European Union met in Brussels to consider a wide range of sanctions against Damascus.

The call for mass demonstrations was made in a statement on the Facebook page of Syrian Revolution 2011, a motor of the protests in which demonstrators inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world are seeking greater freedoms.

The government reacted by reiterating its running ban on demonstrations, despite a decades-old law barring them having been lifted earlier this month, and promising to continue cracking down.

Meanwhile, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood accused the regime of genocide and called on the people not to yield to “tyrants”.

“To the youths of the revolution, tomorrow we will be in all the places, in all the streets. We will gather at the besieged towns, including with our brothers in Daraa,” said a statement from Syrian Revolution 2011.

Information Minister Adnan Mahmud told AFP the crackdown would continue, saying the “authorities are determined to restore security, stability and peace to the citizens”.

The interior ministry appealed to Syrians not to join the protests and warned they would not be tolerated.

“In the current circumstances, the interior ministry calls on brother citizens to contribute in an effective way to stability and security by not staging demonstrations or sit-ins for any reason without official permission,” said a statement reported by the state news agency Sana.

“The laws in force in Syria will be applied to preserve the security of citizens and the country’s stability,” the statement added.

Similar protests after prayers last week ended in chaos, with more than 100 people killed when security forces fired on demonstrators with tear gas and live rounds. Hundreds of people were detained.

Syria has been rocked since March 15 by increasingly strident pro-democracy demonstrations, which the authorities have tried to crush through violence.

The UN Human Rights Council meeting was requested by 10 European nations, the United States, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Senegal and Zambia.

A draft resolution tabled by the United States calls on the 47-member Council to agree to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law” in Syria.

Campaigners said behind-the-scenes haggling was underway on the US proposal after world powers clashed over Syria in the UN Security Council, with Russia and China maintaining their block on condemnation of the violence.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch called on the council to investigate the deadly crackdown on Syrian protesters and to “strongly condemn repression of peaceful protests”.

“Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad needs to hear an unequivocal message from the Human Rights Council that violent suppression of peaceful protests is unacceptable and will have consequences,” said Julie de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch.

In Brussels, the European Union (EU) was poised Friday to punish the savagery in Syria with “large agreement” among member states for action against the brutal crackdown on protesters, a senior EU diplomat said.

Speaking hours before the EU’s 27 ambassadors met to discuss events in Syria, Pierre Vimont, secretary-general of the EU’s foreign service, said “there is a rather large agreement that something should be done to send the right message”.

“It’s not sanctions for the sake of sanctions,” he said. “It’s to try to get a message through to Damascus that they should stop the repression and go back to the right path of dialogue with their opposition.”

For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood said “every Syrian citizen knows that the regime is perpetrating genocide on Syrian territory, which is targeting the desire for emancipation expressed by the revolt of young patriots aspiring to liberty and dignity.”

“God created you free; do not let the tyrants keep you in slavery,” added the statement received by AFP. “Cry with one voice for liberty and dignity.”

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