Syria: Assad troops ‘kill protesters’ at new rallies (BBC)

Troops in Syria are said to have shot dead at least 10 protesters at mass rallies against the government in towns across the country.

According to witnesses, most of the reported deaths occurred in Ezra, near the southern flash-point town of Deraa.

AFP has published photos said to have been taken at an anti-government protest in Baniyas

At least 200 people are said to have died since unrest began last month.

In a concession to the protesters, President Bashar al-Assad formally ended five decades of emergency rule.

A spokesman for Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on him to prove his good intentions by allowing Friday’s protests to proceed “without violent repression”.

“The reforms will only be meaningful if Syria’s security services stop shooting, detaining, and torturing protesters,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.

‘Live bullets’

Deaths were also reported in the Damascus suburb of Douma and Hirak, near Deraa.

A witness in Douma told Reuters he had helped carry three people with bullet wounds to their legs.

One resident in Homs, a city of 700,000 people in the west, told the BBC she had heard shooting and believed three separate protests were under way in the city.

A mobile phone image released by AP is said to show troops in Homs on Thursday

“The security forces are just dispersing the protesters using live bullets,” said the resident, who did not wish to be named.

“There are more than 10,000 people. I’ve been speaking to some of them because I can’t go out. It’s very dangerous for me.”

A mobile phone image released by AP is said to show troops in Homs on Thursday

In Hama, a city in central Syria similar in size to Homs, security forces are said to have also opened fire on a crowd of protesters.

News agencies quoted witnesses as saying that the protesters were calling for the downfall of Mr Assad’s government.

International news organisations are largely refused entry to Syria at the moment, limiting the scope of the information they can gather about events there.

As the demonstrations resumed, an umbrella group representing Syrian protesters issued a statement saying the anti-government protesters wanted nothing less than a “rapid reformulation of our national institutions”.

The statement, under the name of the “Syrian local organising committees” demanded:

  • An end to torture, killings, arrests and violence against demonstrators
  • Three days of state-sanctioned mourning for deaths so far
  • An independent investigation into the deaths of protesters and judicial proceedings in the light of evidence revealed
  • Release of all political prisoners
  • Reform of Syria’s constitution, including a two-term presidential limit

‘Armed insurrection’

The Syrian government says it is listening to protesters’ demands and President Assad is pushing through a programme of reforms. Thursday’s concessions included abolishing state security courts and allowing peaceful protests.

President Bashar al-Assad says protesters’ demands for reform have been heard

However, other laws give the government wide-ranging powers to detain activists and suppress dissent.

The new law requires Syrians to seek permission from the interior ministry for demonstrations. Some lawyers have said this continues to restrict

President Bashar al-Assad says protesters' demands for reform have been heard, but the protesters "aren't ready" it. (WST)

the freedom of assembly in the same way as the emergency law.

President Assad said last week there would be no more “excuse” for demonstrations once the state of emergency had been lifted but analysts say increasing numbers of opposition activists are calling for the downfall of the regime.

Syria’s unprecedented wave of unrest has been inspired by uprisings against authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

However, Damascus has said an “armed insurrection” by Salafist groups is taking place in Homs and Baniyas.

Salafism is a strict form of Sunni Islam which many Arab governments equate with militant groups like al-Qaeda.

Overall, the unrest poses the gravest threat to President Assad’s rule since he succeeded his father Hafez 11 years ago.

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