SYRIA PROTESTS: Syrian mourners call for revolt 18Mar11 March 20, 2011

Aljazeera -  18 March 2011

Police in Syria have sealed the southern city of Daraa and fired tear gas at crowds of people gathered to mourn the deaths of two men killed by security forces, according to witnesses.

Thousands of mourners gathered in the centre of the city on Saturday, marching behind the coffins of Wissam Ayyash and Mahmoud al-Jawabra, who were killed when security forces opened fire on protesters a day earlier.

Mazen Darwish, a prominent Syrian rights activist, said police had sealed the city with people being allowed out but unable to enter.

He cited residents who did not want their names published for fear of reprisals.

Inspired by the revolts sweeping through the Arab world, protesters on Friday had called for political freedoms and an end to corruption in Syria, which has been ruled under emergency laws by the Baath Party for nearly half a century.

Three to four thousand people leaving the city’s Omari mosque after midday prayers chanted “God, Syria, Freedom” and slogans accusing the president’s family of corruption, residents said.

But in the most violent response in years to protests against Syria’s ruling elite, five people were killed when security forces opened fire on the protest.

Crushing dissent

Smaller protests also took place in the central city of Homs and the coastal town of Banias, home to one of Syria’s two oil refineries, activists said.

A crowd briefly chanted slogans for freedom inside the Umayyad Mosque in Old Damascus before security forces closed in.

The Syrian security forces, which stepped up arrests of dissidents since the Arab uprisings began in January, have a history of crushing dissent.

In 1982, Hafez al-Assad, the father of current President Bashar al-Assad, sent troops to put down a rebellion in the city of Hama, killing thousands.

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights group, 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.

In 2004, Kurds in eastern Syria, many of whom are not allowed Syrian citizenship, mounted violent demonstrations that spread in Kurdish regions across Syria, resulting in 30 deaths.


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