Students ‘armed’ with pencils beaten in Syria, activist says
— Syria weathered more anti-government ferment over the past 24 hours as the embattled regime girded for another round of nationwide protests.
Security forces rounded up a leading voice for human rights Thursday, hours after a large rally erupted at Aleppo University, a top college in the heart of Syria’s second largest city.
The government has been cracking down on protests over the past two months in Daraa, Homs, Banias and other cities.
Protesters plan another round on Friday, with rallies expected across the country after the weekly Muslim prayers.
“Despite overwhelming international condemnation, the Syrian government continues to exact brutal reprisals against its own citizens, including, tragically, the deaths of hundreds of Syrians since March. They engage in unlawful detention and torture and the denial of medical care to wounded persons,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at a press conference in Greenland’s capital on Thursday.
“Now, there may be some who think that this is a sign of strength, but treating one’s own people in this way is, in fact, a sign of remarkable weakness,” she said.
The outpouring at the college is significant because large anti-government demonstrations have yet to occur in the heart of the country’s two major power centers — the capital Damascus and the metropolis of Aleppo.
The presence of thousands of people at a Tahrir Square-style demonstration could portend a new chapter in the Syrian uprising.
There had been a small demonstration at the college in recent weeks, but the protest at Aleppo University late Wednesday was much larger.
It began with a small group chanting anti-government slogans. As the demonstrators marched through the campus, more and more students joined and the group swelled to several thousand, a political activist in Aleppo said.
They called for “freedom” and chanted “with our blood, with our souls we will sacrifice for you, Daraa,” a slogan in solidarity with the people of that city, where the anti-government protests began two months ago.
A group of 50 pro-government protesters joined by hundreds of security forces confronted the students and began beating them with sticks and batons. The activist said the demonstrations were dispersed and several people were injured.
“We were only armed with our notebooks and pencils,” the activist said.
“In Syria, freedom has been made illegal,” the activist said. “This is a word and concept that is not allowed in our country.”
Students plan a demonstration on Friday afternoon, even though the university campus is now surrounded by army, security forces, and police.
Joshua Landis, associate professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Oklahoma and an expert on Syria, said the big complaint and challenge of the protest movement is that it has been unsuccessful in reaching the center of the more affluent urban areas like Aleppo.
It would be significant, he said, if unrest took hold in those areas
Upper-middle-class, technically savvy, and idealistic students staging a protest in the center of Aleppo or …