[QODLink]
Middle East
Violence erupts at protests in Syria
Reports of violence as residents of three towns fill the streets in demonstrations against the government.
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2011 18:56

Protests have erupted in at least three towns across Syria in the most serious case of unrest in decades for a country that has been ruled with strict emergency laws for almost half a century.

Witnesses reported that at least three people had been killed by security forces in the southern city of Deraa on Friday, where anti-government demonstrators had gathered after midday prayers.

The three were reportedly among several thousand people in the city who chanted "God, Syria, Freedom" while accusing president Bashar al-Assad's family of corruption.

Witnesses said security forces were reinforced with troops who landed in the city's football stadium in helicopters.

"The confrontations are ongoing. They are heavy," a witness told the Reuters news agency.

Hundreds of protesters were reported to have been injured.

'Acts of sabotage'

The state news agency SANA said "acts of sabotage" had broken out at the protest, which prompted the security forces to intervene.

"Infiltrators took advantage of a gathering of citizens near the Omari Mosque in the city of Deraa on Friday afternoon to provoke chaos through acts of violence which resulted in damage to private and public property," the agency reported.

"The infiltrators also set cars and shops on fire, which obliged security forces to intervene in order to protect citizens and property. They were also attacked by the infiltrators before the latter dispersed."

The violence came after a 200-strong protest in the capital Damascus was forcefully broken up by baton-wielding plain-clothes Syrian police, witnesses said.

A video on the Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011, which earlier called for protests to mark Friday as a "day of dignity", showed a man being dragged out of the Omayyed mosque in central Damascus.

Soon after the protest there was dispersed, a crowd of government supporters appeared in the square outside the mosque, carrying pictures of al-Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad.

Other videos which appeared online purportedly show water cannon being used on crowds of protesters in the coastal town of Banyas, and several thousand men gathering in the city of Homs.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
'Justice for All' demonstrations swell across the US over the deaths of African Americans in police encounters.
Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.
Disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in prison highlights inequality and marginalisation, critics say.
Nearly half of Canadians have suffered inappropriate advances on the job - and the political arena is no exception.
Featured
Women's rights activists are demanding change after Hanna Lalango, 16, was gang-raped on a bus and left for dead.
Buried in Sweden's northern forest, Sorsele has welcomed many unaccompanied kids who help stabilise a town exodus.
A look at the changing face of North Korea, three years after the death of 'Dear Leader'.
While some fear a Muslim backlash after café killings, solidarity instead appears to be the order of the day.
Victims spared by the deadly disease are reporting blindness and other unexpected post-Ebola health issues.