Thousands attend Syria funerals

Rights group criticises security forces as residents in Daraa bury those killed in Friday's protests.

    Protests were held in several Syrian cities on Friday, including in Latakia where injuries were reported [Reuters]

    Thousands gathered to attend the funerals of those killed in Syria's recent violence, while a local rights group accused state security forces of committing a crime against humanity, following the violent deaths.

    People chanted freedom slogans after assembling for the mass funerals near the old Omari mosque in the old quarter of the southern city of Daraa on Saturday.

    The National Organisation for Human Rights said that 37 people were killed during Friday's demonstrations across the country.

    In Daraa, the centre of the protests, 30 people were killed. Three more people died in the central city of Homs and three in Harasta, a Damascus suburb, as well as one in Douma.

    "Probably the protests yesterday were the most widespread since they began less than a month ago," Al Jazeera's Rula Amin said from the capital Damascus.

    "People [in Daraa] are telling us thousands are expected to take part in the funerals of those who were killed and they insist on their version of events that it was the security forces who shot at their sons."

    Residents in the Sunni district of Latakia also said security forces used live ammunition in the early hours of Saturday to disperse a pro-democracy protest by hundreds of people there.

    "What is happening in Syria is a flagrant violation of [human rights]," the National Organisation for Human Rights said in a statement.

    "The Syrian security committed [in Daraa] what could be called a crime against humanity ... It fired indiscriminately on protesters and killed and wounded tens of them."

    The group listed the names of the dead in Daraa.

    'Armed gangs' accused

    Protests have spread across Syria, challenging the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, and dozens of demonstrators have been killed.

    After Friday's bloodshed, Syria's interior ministry warned it would not tolerate breaches of the law and would deal with "armed groups", state news agency SANA said on Saturday.

    "What the government is saying is that it has its own forces being shot at. They say about 19 policeman and security members were killed during the clashes in Daraa and they accuse armed gangs," our correspondent said.

    A witness in Latakia told Reuters he saw water trucks hosing down blood on the streets near the Takhasussieh School in the Sleibeh district, 330 km northwest of Damascus.

    "One cannot move two steps in the streets without risking arrest. It is difficult to know if there were deaths, but we heard heavy AK-47 fire," a resident said.

    "One thing is certain. This regime of thugs is exposing its fangs. Brutality is the only thing it knows," he told Reuters by telephone.

    Activists have called for daily rallies in Syria following the recent violence there.

    In Daraa, 60km south of Damascus and the site of the mass funerals, there was a heavy security and army presence, our correspondent said.

    People there used the mass burial as a means to demonstrate against the government.

    "The burial of each of the martyrs will become a demonstration against the regime and in favour of freedom, even if the interior ministry statement warns there will be further violence," a local activist said.

    Protesters in Syria are demanding an end to the country's emergency law, in place since 1963. They are also calling for greater political freedoms, reforms and an end to corruption.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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