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In Syria, Forces Open Fire On Demonstrators

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In Syria, Forces Open Fire On Demonstrators

Middle East

In Syria, Forces Open Fire On Demonstrators

In Syria, Forces Open Fire On Demonstrators

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/136723365/136723344" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Thousands of protesters took to the streets of towns and cities across Syria Friday — despite a fierce government crackdown. Early reports said at least eight protesters were killed.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And first this hour, we're going to hear about Syria and Pakistan. First, Syria where today demonstrators once again filled the streets. They braved a heavy security deployment to call for reform and the end of the Assad regime. Human rights groups said at least eight people were killed as security forces again opened fire.

Foreign media are barred from Syria, so NPR's Peter Kenyon is following the story from neighboring Beirut.

PETER KENYON: With the approach of another Friday, President Bashar al-Assad said the process of reform is irreversible, but thousands of Syrians across the country were not reassured.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: For the second week in a row, large numbers of demonstrators marched in the capital, Damascus. Today's march started at a mosque not far from the old city. Organizers said security forces tried to organize a pro-regime counter rally and then surrounded the protesters and fired teargas and began beating demonstrators.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Video recordings continue to come out of the country despite what appeared to be increased efforts by the regime to disrupt Internet and phone connections.

In southern Daraa province, birthplace of the anti-regime protests more than two months ago, the violence started overnight as people took to their rooftops to cry Allah Akbar - God is great. Witnesses and rights groups say at least four people were shot and killed after those cries began to ring out. The rooftop protests are reminiscent of the cries from Iranian protesters in 2009, after disputed elections returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

In the north, near Aleppo, demonstrators carried out similar rooftop demonstrations. A resident of the largely Kurdish town of Ain Arab says they modified the pro-Assad chant that says: God, Syria and Bashar, that's enough.

Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) At 2 o'clock this morning, people were calling to God from the rooftops. The voices were very loud; the whole city was hearing it. People were saying: God, Syria, freedom, and that's enough.

KENYON: He said 3- to 4,000 people demonstrated in Ain Arab today. He asked that his name not be used, saying that the regime was starting to terrorize families in an effort to intimidate leaders of the protests.

Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) In my case, they took my father in an effort to pressure me to turn myself in. I warned Bashar that if he doesn't leave my father alone, we're going to prosecute him for his father's crimes. Hafez al-Assad committed massacres that everyone in Syria knows about.

KENYON: Local coordinating committees who were trying to organize the far-flung protests labeled this week's demonstrations: Guardians of the Homeland - a reference to the Syrian army.

Protesters are hoping that as in Egypt, army leaders will grow reluctant to fire on unarmed demonstrators. Analysts say for the moment, the regime seems to be relying on plainclothes security forces to confront the demonstrators, but the army remains loyal to the government as well.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: In another flash-point area, towns around the central city of Homs saw more large protests today, with security forces using teargas and warning shots against demonstrators.

One witness said in a new development, security forces threw rocks at protesters, instead of opening fire on the crowd.

North of Homs, in Hama, scene of a huge massacre in 1982, activists claim tens of thousands marched in the streets. Those figures could not be independently verified as the regime continues to deny access to foreign journalists and aid workers.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut.

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