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Middle East
Syrian mourners call for revolt
Thousands attending funeral for slain pro-democracy protesters call for "freedom" as police fire tear gas.
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2011 13:03
Syrian authorities have stepped up arrests of dissidents since the Arab uprisings began in January [AFP]

Thousands of people gathering in Syria's southern city of Daraa to mourn the deaths of two people killed by security forces have called for "revolution" in the country.

Police sealed off the city and fired tear gas to disperse the crowds who had turned out for the funerals of Wissam Ayyash and Mahmoud al-Jawabra, two of five people killed when security forces opened fire on protesters a day earlier.

Mazen Darwish, a prominent Syrian rights activist, said police had sealed the city with people being allowed out but unable to enter and other activists reported dozens of arrests.

The latest crackdown follows protests on Friday where, inspired by the revolts sweeping through the Arab world, demonstrators had called for political freedoms and an end to corruption in Syria.

Three to four thousand people leaving the city's Omari mosque after midday prayers chanted "God, Syria, Freedom" and slogans accusing the president's family of corruption, residents said.

But in the most violent response in years to protests against Syria's ruling elite, five people were killed when security forces opened fire on the protest.

Crushing dissent

The Associated Press quoted quoted unnamed Syrian officials as saying a committee was to set up to investigate the circumstances of Friday's violence in Daraa and to punish those responsible for the deaths.

The news agency quoted one anonymous official as saying that if the investigation shows security officers were guilty, they will be put on trial "no matter how high their rank is".

Smaller protests also took place in the central city of Homs and the coastal town of Banias, home to one of Syria's two oil refineries, activists said.

A crowd briefly chanted slogans for freedom inside the Umayyad Mosque in Old Damascus before security forces closed in.

The Syrian security forces, which stepped up arrests of dissidents since the Arab uprisings began in January, have a history of crushing dissent.

In 1982, Hafez al-Assad, the father of current President Bashar al-Assad, sent troops to put down a rebellion in the city of Hama, killing thousands.

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights group, has said Syria's authorities were among the worst violators of human rights in 2010, jailing lawyers, torturing opponents and using violence to repress ethnic Kurds.

In 2004, Kurds in eastern Syria, many of whom are not allowed Syrian citizenship, mounted violent demonstrations that spread in Kurdish regions across Syria, resulting in 30 deaths.

Source:
Agencies
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