Syrian protests spread to Aleppo

Students reportedly clash with security forces in country’s second city while women march in protest over mass arrests.

Syrian women protest over mass arrests
Picture from YouTube said to show protesting women marching along Syria’s main coastal highway

Syrian students have demonstrated in the country’s second-largest city of Aleppo in the first protests there since a wave of pro-reform demonstrations broke out in mid-March, an activist has said.

Radif Mustafa, the president of the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights, said security forces and students clashed on the campus of Aleppo’s faculty of literature.

“Security forces dispersed by force a protest by students calling for freedom,” he told the AFP news agency by telephone.

At least three students were reported to have been arrested.

Most of the demonstrators were said to have come from Daraa, the town in the south of the country where the pro-reform protests first began.

In Damascus, about 50 students staged a protest at the law faculty demanding greater freedoms, Abdel Karim Rihawi of the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights said, two days after a sit-in at the science faculty.

“Security forces used batons to disperse the students and some students have been arrested,” said Rihawi.

Protests for reforms first broke out on March 15 and have gripped many cities and towns across the country. 

About 30 people were killed in a crackdown by security forces at the weekend namely in Daraa and Baniyas.

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Damascus, said that a delegation from Daraa was set to meet with Bashar al-Assad, the country’s president, on Wednesday but that the preparations were “up in the air”.

Women march

Earlier on Wednesday, hundreds of women marched along Syria’s main coastal highway to demand the release of men arrested in a mass raid on the town of Baida.

The women gathered on the road leading to Turkey, chanting slogans demanding the release of some 350 men arrested on Tuesday by security forces including secret police.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that security forces barged into houses and arrested men aged up to 60 after townsfolk had earlier participated in unprecedented protests challenging Assad’s rule.

“The women of Baida are on the highway. They want their men back,” the organisation said.

A human rights lawyer earlier said security forces had arrested 200 residents in Baida, killing two people.

“They brought in a television crew and forced the men they arrested to shout ‘We sacrifice our blood and our soul for you, Bashar’ while filming them,” the lawyer, who was in contact with residents of the town, told the Reuters news agency.

‘Police state’

“Syria is the Arab police state par excellence. But the regime still watches international reaction, and as soon as it senses that it has weakened, it turns more bloody,” said the lawyer, who did not want to be further identified.

Assad has responded to the protests, now in their fourth week, with a blend of force and vague promises of reform.

The Damascus Declaration, Syria’s main rights group, said the death toll from the pro-democracy protests had reached 200.

The authorities have described the protests as part of a foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian strife, blaming unspecified armed groups and “infiltrators” for the violence, and denying a report by Human Rights Watch that security forces have prevented ambulances and medical supplies from reaching besieged areas.

Montaha al-Atrash, board member of the Syrian human rights group Sawasieh, said the authorities “dream up more fantasy armed gang scenarios as soon as another region rises up to demand freedom and democracy”.

“Shame on them. They are doing a disservice to their own president. Why do infiltrators and armed groups disappear when the authorities organise a ‘popular’ pro-Assad demonstrations?” Atrash said.

“As soon as an area like Baida stands up, they attack it and put out the usual film reel of members of the security forces who died defending stability and order,” Atrash said.

Activists said Baida was targeted because its residents participated in a demonstration in Baniyas last week in which protesters shouted: “The people want the overthrow of the regime” – the rallying cry of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions where the leaders were toppled.

Source: News Agencies