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Middle East
Anger in Syria over security crackdown
Anti-government protesters regroup following a huge crackdown by security forces which claimed at least 20 lives.
Last Modified: 26 Mar 2011 11:12



There is anger in Syria a day after a deadly security crackdown against anti-government protesters in the town of Daraa.

Protesters vowed to hit the streets on Saturday, despite a rising death toll in demonstrations that have put President Bashar al-Assad under unprecedented domestic pressure.

A Facebook group behind a string of demonstrations that have surfaced in Syria this month drummed up support for more rallies on Saturday.

"Today, Saturday... popular uprisings in all Syrian governorates," read a posting on The Syria Revolution 2011, which has garnered the support of over 86,000 fans.

People are set to gather today for funerals of those killed.

Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Damascus, said people in Daraa are angry at the government for the violence and government will have to work hard to reconcile with the people of the area.

Security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters in the city of Sanamin near Daraa on Friday, killing at least 20 people, according to one witness.

"There are more than 20 martyrs .... they [security forces] opened fire haphazardly," the witness told Al Jazeera.

The crackdown has attracted the attention of the United Nations with Navi Pillay, the human rights commissioner, calling for an investigation and an immediate halt to violence, a message echoed by Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General.

Human rights group Amnesty International said on Friday that at least 55 people had been killed since protests erupted. However, government figure stands at 37.

Meanwhile, Syrian authorities have released 260 prisoners, mostly Islamists, from Saydnaya jail on Friday, a human rights lawyer said.

"These are prisoners who have completed at least three-quarters of their sentences and are entitled to be freed but the authorities rarely granted them that right before," the rights lawyer, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Damascus, said Syrian forces on Friday apparently opened fire after protesters set fire to a statue of Hafez al-Assad, the late former president.

Footage on YouTube also showed protesters in the cental square of Daraa dismantling a portrait of his son, Bashar al-Assad, the current president.

Three people were also reported killed in Mouadamieh district of Damascus after a crowd confronted a procession of cars driven by supporters of president Bashar al-Assad, residents said.

Significantly, people do not want regime change at this point of time but want to protest peacefully to achieve their rights, our correspondent said. People want corruption to end, more political reforms and freedom of expressions, she said.

"The government promised reforms a couple of days ago and the real test for the government right now is to show that it is serious and these are not empty promises."

Malid Al-Abdeh, a Syrian journalist based in the UK, told Al Jazeera that people in Syria are afraid to call for regime change as they may face brutal repression or may be death penalty.

Regime supporters take to streets

Regime supporters also took to the streets in sizeable numbers on Friday, waving flags and images of al-Assad. A large crowd gathered in the evening outside Al Jazeera's bureau in Damascus, demanding to be shown on the network.

"Thousands and thousands are now out in the streets of the capital, driving around the capital, showing their support for President Aasad. There is no doubt the president does have support in this country. Bashar al-Assad is a popular leader," our correspondent said.

But Anas al-Abda, the chairman of the Movement for Justice and Development in Syria, told Al Jazeera that pro-government demonstrations were "most probably fabricated and organised by the regime".

Earlier, Reem Haddad, from the Syrian information ministry, told Al Jazeera that security forces had been given the order not to shoot at protesters "no matter what happens".

"But things took on a different hue because inside these peaceful demonstrations there was another group of people who were armed ... and were shooting at the security forces and were shooting at other citizens in Daraa. At the end of the day this became a matter of national security."

But an eyewitness told Al Jazeera that "there were no people carrying arms among demonstrators".

"What happened in the square ... was live ammunition, I was present myself and I saw the youth and other young demonstrators leading a peaceful demonstration.

"They were chanting slogans calling for freedom and transparency and an end [to] corruption."

'Day of dignity'

The latest clashes come after protesters demanding greater freedom called for a "day of dignity" on Friday following a week-long crackdown by pro-regime forces that has left dozens dead.

At least 200 people marched in the centre of Damascus after Friday prayers in support of the people of Daraa, scene of protests against Baath Party rule, Reuters reported.

Protests spread across Syria, with rallies also held in the central city of Hama and in Tel, near Damascus. According to our correspondent, numbers at these rallies ranged from hundreds of people to thousands.

Daraa, the main city of southern Syria, has become a flashpoint for protests. Officials have been on the defensive after protesters in the southern city were shot dead by police.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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