Syrian Troops Open Fire On Protesters
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Witnesses in Syria say more protesters were killed today by security forces. That comes less than a day after President Obama demanded that Syria stop shooting demonstrators and open a dialogue with the opposition. Anti-government and human rights groups said some two dozen people died and many more were wounded.
NPR's Peter Kenyon has been following the story from neighboring Beirut.
PETER KENYON: Top officials in the Syrian regime have been saying that the uprising is largely a thing of the past, but that wasn't how it looked today as thousands of Syrians took to the streets in cities, towns and villages across the country.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)
Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)
KENYON: This video said to be from Bukamal, a town near the Iraqi border in a largely Kurdish area, featured the sound of automatic weapons fire and fleeing young men, some throwing stones. The source of the gunfire could not be confirmed, nor was it clear if anyone was hit.
Most news organizations are barred from Syria, leaving journalists to rely on witness reports and videos posted to the Internet.
Anti-government activists and human rights groups said demonstrations were held in the capital, Damascus, and the cultural city of Banias and in Hama, among other places.
This video was said to be from a demonstration today in the central city of Homs.
(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)
Group: (Foreign language spoken)
KENYON: Witnesses said several protests broke out in and around Homs, and some groups were able to coalesce into a larger protest.
One Homs resident reached by phone said as the crowd swelled, security forces tried to close off the area and then the shooting started.
Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) Immediately, the security forces opened fire, at first shooting in the air. But when the crowd failed to break up, they turned their guns on the people.
KENYON: In the south, the area around the city of Daraa remained under siege.
In a phone interview from the town of Sanamein, one woman, who didn't want her name used for fear of retaliation, said the regime was showing no mercy when faced with unarmed demonstrators.
Unidentified Woman: (Through Translator) They went out in peaceful protests, unarmed people carrying nothing but their words. They met them with live bullets, and several martyrs fell - among them a child who hadn't reached his 10th birthday yet.
KENYON: Regime supporters argue that the violence was not a refutation of President Bashar al-Assad's stated desire to have a dialogue with the opposition.
Pro-regime analyst Taleb Ibrahim told Al-Jazeera's Arabic news channel that the opposition is to blame for problems in starting a dialogue.
TALIB IBRAHIM: (Through Translator) They say freedom. They say topple the regime, but they don't know what political freedom means. They want to topple the government, but they don't have a legitimate alternative. It's a fractured opposition.
KENYON: When the Homs demonstrator was told of Ibrahim's comments, he replied that of course the opposition is fractured, because the regime threw so many of its leaders in jail.
IBRAHIM: (Through Translator) This level of disgrace is unbelievable. There is no confidence in this regime. What kind of regime is this? How can you have dialogue with someone who fires on unarmed civilians?
KENYON: In Beirut, Lebanon also came in for criticism over its handling of Syrian refugees. Human Rights Watch called on Lebanon to stop detaining people fleeing the violence and, above all, not to return them to Syria, where they could face torture.
Human Rights Watch official Nadim Houry says the lack of transparency by Lebanese authorities is troubling.
NADIM HOURY: You know, Syria for a very long time controlled Lebanon, and it keeps today very extensive and intimate relationship with Lebanon's security services. And the fear is that they may be deporting people without informing the judiciary, without informing anyone.
KENYON: For the moment, the day of protest in Syria has buoyed the spirits of the anti-regime protesters, but neither the protesters nor the regime seems ready to predict with any confidence where this uprising is headed.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News.
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