Friday, March 25, 2011

Protests Spread In Syria As Death Toll Rises

At least 44 people have been killed by Syrian security forces trying to quell protests in Daraa.
As protests spread across other cities, there is a rising sense in the country that the government's offers of reform had not done enough to appease the population.

"Today ushers in a new era," said one Syrian man speaking on condition of anonymity. "I think the size of the protests will grow and spread further." He said that many Syrians were beginning to view President Assad in a different light.

The president has found favor with many young Syrians who see his foreign policy as well as his aims as trending towards his own: opening up the country and moving forward with reforms.

But the killings in Daraa, the ramping up of arrests and the slew of government propaganda blaming unrest on outsiders, reiterated by spokesperson Buthaina Shaaban on Thursday night, have altered opinions, he said. A Daraa resident told the AP that more than 50,000 people were shouting slogans decrying presidential adviser Mrs. Shaaban Friday.

A human rights activist, quoting witnesses, told the AP thousands of people gathered in the town of Douma outside the capital, Damascus, pledging support for the people of Daraa.

Across Syria security forces battled the crowds with batons and sticks attempting to disperse antigovernment gatherings that formed around mosques after the Friday prayer sermons, according to media reports. They also arrested dozens of protestors, according to reports.

In Damascus, activists said it was much harder to act. Intelligence agents have been cracking down in recent days, arresting and detaining scores of people and demanding they hand over passwords to email and Facebook accounts.

To counter any coverage of anti-government demonstrations, throughout the day huge rallies of pro-Assad supporters drove around the capital city waving flags and photographs of the president. A large rally is planned in the city this evening.

Bashar Assad claims that he didn't give the order to open fire on the protesters, but that's an empty claim given his family's long history of using violence to silence any and all opposition to their regime. After all, Bashar's father Hafez, razed the entire city of Hama, killing thousands in the process (giving rise to the Hama rules).

Assad also knows how badly those killings will play on television and the international media, so he's got his thugs and supporters trying to inflate their numbers/supporters by driving around Damascus showing their support. That's almost directly out of the old Soviet playbook where they'd have the same planes flying overhead in a circular pattern to make it appear as though they had many more bombers and fighters than they really did.

This is a regime that is grasping at straws and reverting to what it knows best how to do - which is using violence and intimidation to remain in power.

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