[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
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Featured
About 500,000 participated around the globe in the Peoples Climate March, and Al Jazeera spoke to some in New York.
Separatist movements in Spain, Belgium and Italy may face headwinds following Scotland's decision to stay in the UK.
A fishing trawler carrying 500 migrants across the Mediterranean was rammed by another boat, causing hundreds to drown.
Anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party - with roots in the neo-Nazi movement - recently won 12.9 percent of the vote.
Palestinian doctor who lost three daughters in previous Gaza war is fighting to bring 100 wounded kids to Canada.