Thousands defy Assad to protest in Syria | Pakistan Today

Thousands defy Assad to protest in Syria

DAMASCUS – Thousands of Syrians emerged from prayers to protest in the country’s north and south on Friday, in the first rallies since President Bashar al-Assad dashed hopes for greater freedoms. Witnesses in Daraa, one of the main focal points of rising dissent, told AFP that thousands of faithful gathered outside the flashpoint southern town’s courthouse after leaving a mosque.
“Death rather than humiliation,” and “National Unity,” they shouted.Chants were also directed against Assad, whose highly anticipated speech to parliament on Wednesday failed to match the demands of pro-reform protests that erupted more than two weeks ago.Protests took place for the first time in the mainly Kurdish populated northeast by hundreds of people.
“Hundreds of people marched peacefully through the streets after Friday prayers in Qamishli and Amuda chanting ‘We want freedom’ and ‘God, Syria and freedom’,” Kurdish rights activist Radif Mustafa told AFP.The “Friday of Martyrs” protests were also held from the coastal city of Latakia to Homs and Darriya, near the capital Damascus, where people chanted: “My beloved Syria, give me my freedom.”
The official SANA news agency confirmed demonstrations took place without incident near mosques in Daraa and Latakia, where protesters paid tribute to martyrs and called for speedier reforms.In Damascus, hundreds of protesters locked themselves up inside Al-Rifai mosque in the city centre chanting “Freedom, freedom,” as security forces tried to break in, a demonstrator said, and a group of pro-regime loyalists gathered in the square opposite.
It was the third week in succession for protests following Friday Muslim prayers.President Assad, who is facing domestic pressure unprecedented in his 11-year rule, failed to lift almost 50 years of emergency rule in his first address to the nation since the protests demanding greater freedoms broke out on March 15.
Instead, he said there was a “conspiracy” targeting unity in Syria, blaming the country’s “enemies” for taking advantage of the needs of the people to incite division in the country ruled by emergency law since the Baath party seized power in 1963. The Syrian Revolution 2011, a wildly popular yet anonymous Facebook group that has emerged as a motor of the protests, had called for rallies at all mosques after Friday prayers until their demands for “freedom” are met.
“The real cause, the ultimate cause, is that we have been… beaten in our own streets, silenced, for more than 40 years,” one activist, who preferred to remain anonymous, said before the midday prayers.”But the most pressing cause, in today’s rallies, is the president’s speech, which dashed all our hopes and expectations,” he told AFP. “We have been hearing the same speech for decades.”
In a video message posted online, Syrian human rights lawyer Haytham Maleh had called on protesters to keep up their pressure until the government bows to their demands. “I appeal to Syrians to continue to put pressure on the authorities to fulfill the legitimate demands they have,” said Maleh, warning authorities would “assume full responsibility” if they fail to satisfy the protesters.
The protests so far have been deadly with activists estimating more than 160 people killed in clashes with security forces, mainly in Daraa, a tribal area on the Jordanian border, and the coastal city of Latakia. Officials put the death toll at about 30 and have accused Muslim extremists and “armed gangs” of pushing peaceful rallies into violence with the aim of inciting sectarian unrest in Syria, which prides itself on coexistence in a region torn by confessional strife.
In a conciliatory move, Assad on Thursday ordered a string of reforms, including a study of new laws on the media and political pluralism and plans to tackle the plight of 300,000 Kurds who have been denied Syrian citizenship for close to half a century.

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