One of the few Western journalists who has been able to get in to Syria to see the protests there and the crackdown by the regime of President Bashar Assad says he was "surprised at how much support President Assad himself still has."
Martin Fletcher, associate editor at The Times of London, spoke with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel earlier today.
Fletcher just left Syria after six days there (during which he posed as a tourist; more on that below) and says that while the outside world has gotten the impression that most Syrians are rising up against Assad, he came away thinking things are more complicated.
"People hate the people around [Assad]," Fletcher said, "for their corruption; for their brutality." But many of the Syrians he met, still believe that the president is something of a reformer and they "like the way he stands up to the United States and Israel."
Others, Fletcher added, buy into the idea that if Assad were to step down then sectarian violence might flare. That's a theory that Syrian writer Yassin Haj Saleh told Robert earlier this week is nothing more than "blackmail" coming from the Assad regime.
As for how he was able to do his work while in Syria, Fletcher said he left behind many of journalism's modern tools — particularly his laptop. He took a new cellphone with no phone numbers programmed into it so that authorities couldn't search it for contacts. And he wrote his reports in long-hand, before dictating them over the phone to his newsroom back in London.
We'll add the as-broadcast version of Robert's conversation with Fletcher to the top of this post later today.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press writes from Beirut that "Syrian security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters Friday, killing at least six people as soldiers tried to head off demonstrations by occupying mosques and blocking public squares, human rights activists said."