Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rare Protests in Syria

Syrian Police Attack Marchers at Funerals

The New York Times
March 19, 2011

DAMASCUS, Syria — More than 20,000 people marched Saturday in the southern Syrian town of Dara’a in funerals for protesters killed in demonstrations the day before, and the police used truncheons and tear gas to disperse the mourners.

Protests broke out in four cities on Friday, a rare event in a police state that brutally represses dissent. At the largest one, a march of several thousand people in Dara’a, a police crackdown killed six people.

The funeral procession on Saturday became a protest in its own right, with marchers calling for more freedoms and an end to Syria’s longstanding emergency law, witnesses said. They chanted, “The people want an end to corruption,” and, “The blood of our martyrs won’t be forgotten.” They repeated the demands made in the march on Friday: that the mayor and a local security chief should be fired for their role in arresting of a group of children two weeks ago for writing protest graffiti.

“We know they used tear gas and excessive force with the protesters,” said Razan Zaitouneh, a prominent human rights lawyer in Damascus. No reporters or activists have been allowed into the city, which remains closed, and communications with the city have been cut, she said.

The authorities sent a delegation of Dara’a elders, including the mufti of the city, to try to calm the situation and negotiate with the citizens, according to Mazen Darwish, head of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.

One Dara’a resident said the delegation members “don’t represent us.”

The resident, who, like others, refused to be identified for fear of repercussions, said, “They would never represent the families of those killed.”

The funeral procession left the central mosque of Dara’a after noon prayers and lasted three hours before returning to the center of town. As the mourners tried to march to Al Mahata district of Dara’a, confrontations started with the security services. The authorities used tear gas, but the gas seemed more toxic than ordinary tear gas, witnesses said.

“Many suffered near suffocation and paralysis symptoms,” said a witness reached by phone.

The Interior Ministry has established a committee to “investigate the unfortunate events that happened in Dara’a,” according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. “All those proved responsible, or those who committed any offense would be held accountable.”

Thirty-two people who were arrested in a small protest in the capital on Wednesday said they would go on a hunger strike until their release.

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