Friday, March 25, 2011

Syrian Troops Open Fire On Protestors

Witnesses say Syrian troops have opened fire on anti-government protesters in Daraa Friday as thousands take to the streets demanding reforms and mourning dozens of protesters who were killed during a violent, weeklong crackdown.

A resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, tells the Associated Press heavy gunfire can be heard in the city center and witnesses have reported several casualties.

He told AP that the shooting started after protesters set fire to a bronze statue of late President Hafez Assad, President Bashar's Assad's father.

One witness tells Reuters that at least 20 people were killed when Syrian forces fired on protesters in Sanamein.

Daraa, the main city of southern Syria's drought-parched agricultural heartland, has become a flashpoint for protests in a country whose leadership stands unafraid of using extreme violence to quash internal unrest. The coming days will be a crucial test of the surge of popular discontent that has unseated autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and threatens to push several others from power.

Sheltering in Daraa's Roman-era old city, the protesters have persisted through seven days of increasing violence by security forces, but have not inspired significant unrest in other parts of the country.

On Friday, demonstrations took place in Daraa and throughout the country in what organizers called a "Day of Dignity."

But journalists who tried to enter Daraa's Old City -- where most of the violence took place -- were escorted out of town Friday by two security vehicles.

"As you can see, everything is back to normal and it is over," an army major, standing in front of the ruling Baath party head office in Daraa, told journalists before they were led out of the city.

By early afternoon, tens of thousands, many of them coming from nearby villages, gathered in Daraa's central Assad Square, chanting pro-democracy slogans such as "freedom, freedom," a resident said over the telephone.

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