Navy Aids In Syria's Crack Down On Protesters

In Syria, the navy is being used for the first time against the protest movement there. Gunships have been shelling the coastal city of Latakia, where more than 30 people have been killed over the last four days. Residents say they fear the crackdown could get worse.

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, Host:

And I'm David Greene, filling in for Steve Inskeep.

In Syria, the navy is being used for the first time against the protest movement there. Gunships have been shelling the coastal city of Latakia, where more than 30 people have been killed over the past four days. Residents say they fear that the crackdown could get even worse.

NPR's Kelly McEvers is monitoring the situation in Syria from Beirut, and she joins us now.

Good morning, Kelly.

KELLY MCEVERS: Good morning.

GREENE: Can you give us the latest on the situation in Latakia?

MCEVERS: Activists are telling us that security forces are just hammering at parts of the city that have been known to hold protests. The city saw an unusually large protest on Friday. And so now gunships, you know, from the sea, tanks inside the city and other heavy machinery are attacking houses.

And they also say that security forces are rounding people up - namely women and children - and taking them to a soccer stadium. They're taking their cell phones and their I.D. cards and they're telling them to stay put while they go against what they call, you know, the sort of armed groups, the armed militants who are behind this whole protest movement.

What people are telling us is that they fear the worst is yet to come. Now that they've got us rounded up in this soccer stadium, what might they do to us?

GREENE: So they're rounding people up, but saying they're doing that to keep them in one place and protect them as they then go after neighborhoods and go after people on the street.

MCEVERS: Right. That's the government's line. You know, we're protecting the innocent civilians while we go against the armed militants. But there doesn't seem to be any, you know, program to it. They're just - activists are just telling us that they're just going house to house and firing at anyone.

GREENE: And Kelly, it seems like Syria continues to take violent action against these protestors despite very stern warnings from other countries, including one of its main allies, Turkey.

MCEVERS: Yeah. Yesterday, you saw some really tough words from the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. He warned in a press conference that Turkey would take, quote, "steps" if the Syrian government did not stop the violence. In recent days, the Turkish - you've seen the Turkish press reporting that, you know, some kind of military intervention might be on the table.

You know, Davutoglu had had a six-hour meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad just last week. And after that, he had urged the international community to give Syria just a little more time to stop the violence and start enacting some kind of political reform.

But up to this point, you've seen no tangible, you know, results, no tangible political reform. And protestors are saying that, you know, for every day you wait, for every day you give Assad time, more people will die.

GREENE: So Kelly, it seems like Syria is just basically saying to the world at this point that the world opinion, you know, makes no difference to them.

MCEVERS: I mean, that's definitely not what they're saying. You know, I think on one hand, you do have some officials saying, you know, we are putting some reforms into place. And they're continuing to say that this is an armed uprising led by militants, not a sort of grassroots, pro- democracy, you know, political movement.

GREENE: That's NPR's Kelly McEvers speaking to us about the situation in Syria from her post in Beirut.

Kelly, thank you.

MCEVERS: Sure. You're welcome.

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