|A screengrab from a YouTube clip purporting to show anti-regime protests in Damascus on March 15, 2011.|
Protesters have demonstrated in Damascus, the Syrian capital, in a rare show of dissent against the country’s hardline regime.
Witnesses said 40 to 50 people gathered after midday prayers on Tuesday in the Al Hamidiya area near the city’s Umayyad Mosque.
A YouTube video showed protesters clapping and chanting “God, Syria, freedom — that’s enough”, and “Peaceful, peaceful”, a chant heard elsewhere in weeks of protests that have swept through the Arab world.
A voice in the background says: “The date is (March) 15 … This is the first obvious uprising against the Syrian regime … Alawite or Sunni, all kinds of Syrians, we want to bring down the regime”.
The protest was quickly broken up by government supporters, the AP news agency reported.
Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father as president in 2000, has said there is no chance of unrest elsewhere in the region spreading to Syria. The country has been ruled by al-Assad’s Baath Party since 1963.
The regime is considered one of the most repressive in the Middle East with political opposition locked up and media tightly controlled.
New York-based Human Rights Watch 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.
Earlier this month the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 13 political prisoners had gone on hunger strike to protest against “political detentions and oppression” in their country.
One of the prisoners, 80-year-old former judge Haitham al-Maleh, was later released under an amnesty marking the anniversary of the 1963 coup which brought the Baath party to power.
Officials say political prisoners in Syria have violated the constitution and that outside criticism of the state’s human rights record is interference in Syria’s affairs.