Syrian Security Forces Kill At Least 30 Protesters
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
In Syria, for the eighth Friday in a row, thousands of anti-government protesters defied a brutal crackdown and took to the streets in cities and towns around the country. Activists and human rights groups report that at least 30 people were killed, phone lines and electricity have been cut off and several cities have been completely isolated from the rest of the country.
NPR's Kelly McEvers is monitoring the situation from Beirut. She joins me now.
And, Kelly, the worst violence, I understand, came today in the city of Homs. What happened there?
KELLY McEVERS: Witnesses and activists are reporting that armed forces stopped them from entering the main squares of the city after Friday prayers - this actually happened in a lot of cities today - but people went out to protest anyway in their neighborhoods in smaller groups.
We saw one video of a sniper taking shots at protesters from a roof. One of the most chilling things we saw was a dozen or so sandals and tennis shoes scattered in the street as if people had run so fast that their shoes had fallen off.
As with all the reporting we do on Syria, these reports are based on phone conversations with witnesses, you know, accounts from human rights groups and videos that activists claimed to have taken. But because we are not allowed to enter Syria, we cannot independently confirm the information.
BLOCK: Yes. And, Kelly, other deaths reported today in the city of Hama which is notorious as the site of an uprising by Sunni Muslims back in 1982 that was violently crushed.
McEVERS: We keep hearing people say things like remember Hama. We don't want another Hama. At that time back in 1982, the father of the current president was in power, Hafez al-Assad. He ordered troops to conduct, you know, a scorched earth policy to suppress this anti-government movement by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. The figures do vary, but it's thought that between about 10 and 20,000 people were killed back then.
Today's protest movement is by and large not an Islamist movement, but it is quick to remind people what this regime is capable of. You have to keep in mind that even mention the Hama massacre in public in Syria before now would have landed you in jail or worse.
So the fact that the people are talking about it, that they're holding signs saying remember Hama, just gives you an idea of how bold these protesters have become in just a few short weeks.
BLOCK: Kelly, what is the government of Bashar al-Assad saying about what happened today?
McEVERS: You know, the best way to discern the government's version of today's events is to watch Syrian state TV, which I've been doing with a Syrian colleague for the last hour or so, and let's just say it's a totally different story.
As far as people they interviewed are concerned, the streets are clear. It's business as usual. People are by and large happy with the country. You know, if there are any problems, it's armed gangs, you know, small bands of militants who are destroying government property and killing government soldiers.
One policeman even held up bags of fake blood, claiming that protesters are staging their injuries and deaths, and then sending these videos, you know, to the international media as part of a larger conspiracy to take down the regime.
BLOCK: So that's the line from the Syrian government on Syrian television.
Kelly, the European Union has said to have agreed on sanctions against the Syrian regime. What are they, and will they have an effect?
McEVERS: The EU today reached a preliminary agreement to impose an arms embargo, a travel ban and an asset freeze on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, but it stopped short of naming Assad himself.
Still, that could have a bigger impact than U.S. sanctions have because members of Assad's regime don't have American assets. They do travel to Europe, do business with Europe and pride themselves on their relations with some European leaders.
BLOCK: NPR's Kelly McEvers in Beirut talking about the crackdown in Syria.
Kelly, thank you very much.
McEVERS: You're welcome.
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