Protest erupts in Syria’s Homs despite new law

April 21, 2011

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

(Reuters) – Syrians took to the streets in large numbers again on Wednesday in the central city of Homs, where activists say more than 20 pro-democracy protesters have been shot dead since Monday by soldiers and irregular forces.

Protesters’ chants demanded “the downfall of the regime,” defying a heavy deployment of security forces and an order by officials to stop all forms of demonstration.

The protest went ahead despite a concession by the government, which approved legislation on Tuesday ending the state of emergency in force inSyria for the last 48 years.

In the city of Banias, in what was seen as another attempt to mollify protesters, the chief of the security police was sacked, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Five civilians were killed in Banias last week and residents identified security police chief Amjad Abbas as one of the officers seen beating a villager in the nearby town of Baida, the Observatory said, citing sources in Damascus.

The newly appointed cabinet, when ending the state of emergency, also approved legislation that requires Syrians to seek permission from the state before they demonstrate.

Security forces sealed off Banias last week after demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad and an attack by irregular forces loyal to him on men guarding a Sunni mosque.

Inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, demonstrators across Syria have taken to the streets for more than a month demanding greater freedom, undaunted by a security crackdown.

Rights groups, which say more than 200 have been killed since the unrest started, have called for independent investigations into the actions of security forces.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday condemned the use of violence against protesters and said the Syrian government must stop arbitrary arrests, detention and the torture of prisoners.


Hours before Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, the Interior Ministry had called on citizens to refrain from protesting at all. Activists said this, and the fact that a leftist opposition figure was arrested on Tuesday night, suggested the ending of the state of emergency did not mean the end of repression.

Protests continued overnight, including in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani where protesters called for freedom and the overthrow of Assad’s rule, echoing the rallying cries of uprisings inTunisia and Egypt.

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