|‘Bye bye Gaddafi… It’s your turn next’, Syrian protesters in Lebanon tell Assad [Reuters]|
Deaths have been reported during the latest protests in Syria, including up to 16 in the flashpoint central city of Homs, according to activist groups.
Two people were shot dead on Friday in Homs by security forces manning a checkpoint, while 14 more were killed as they participated in mass protests, the opposition Local Co-ordination Committees said.
Another civilian died when security forces opened fire on a funeral procession in the southern Deraa region, one of the focal points of opposition to Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government and two more people died in the central province of Hama, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Some protesters drew inspiration on Friday from the death of Muammar Gaddafi, the toppled Libyan leader, as the country’s opposition called for fresh protests in support of the Libyan people and against Assad’s government.
“Gaddafi is gone, your turn is coming Bashar,” protesters shouted on Friday in Hama. “Our souls, our blood, we sacrifice for you, Libya!” they chanted.
Syria’s uprising has proved resilient over the past seven months in the face of a fierce crackdown estimated to have killed more than 3,000 people according to UN estimates, but it has shown some signs of stalling in recent weeks.
In Qusair, near the Lebanese border, Syrian forces closed all mosques to prevent people from gathering. The weekly protests usually begin as Syrians pour out of mosques following Friday afternoon prayers.
Although the mass demonstrations in Syria have shaken al Assad’s government, the opposition has made no major gains in recent months, it holds no territory and has no clear leadership.
But Gaddafi’s demise has raised hope among protesters that Assad could be driven out from power by an “Arab Spring”-uprising.
Some held signs linking Assad’s fate to those of other deposed Arab leaders. Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali has been driven to exile, and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is in prison and facing charges of complicity in the deaths of more than 800 protesters in his country’s uprising.
“Ben Ali fled, Mubarak is in jail, Gaddafi is killed, Assad…?” read one banner.
Syria’s protesters have taken other cues from their Libyan counterparts.
Syria’s opposition formed a national council, in imitation of Libya’s National Transitional Council, hoping they could form a united front against Assad that Syrians and the international community could rally behind.
Some protesters also called on their compatriots to take up arms and invited foreign military action, hoisting signs that say “Where is NATO?” and urging the world to come to Syria’s aid.
For the most part, Syrian opposition leaders have opposed foreign intervention.