Protesters Gather In Hama, Syria In Syria Friday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the central city of Hama, which has hosted the largest protests since the movement began four months ago. The demonstrators are calling for the downfall of President Bashar Assad. Meanwhile, American ambassador Robert Ford is in Hama to express solidarity with the protesters. His trip has infuriated the Syrian government.
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Protesters Gather In Hama, Syria

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Protesters Gather In Hama, Syria

Protesters Gather In Hama, Syria

Protesters Gather In Hama, Syria

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In Syria Friday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the central city of Hama, which has hosted the largest protests since the movement began four months ago. The demonstrators are calling for the downfall of President Bashar Assad. Meanwhile, American ambassador Robert Ford is in Hama to express solidarity with the protesters. His trip has infuriated the Syrian government.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

The U.S. and Syria have been sparring today over a visit by the American ambassador to Hama. That city is a center of protest against the government.

NORRIS: NPR's Deborah Amos has the story from Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

DEBORAH AMOS: Ambassador Ford saved lives in Hama, today, says activist Amer al Sadeq.

AMER AL SADEQ: Today, we had huge fears of army intervention inside the city and security forces killing the people of Hama. And we believe that his visit today protected the people there, which didn't happen in other cities.

AMOS: Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF SERMON)

AMOS: It was an all-day campaign to blunt the dramatic symbolism in Hama, now the center of anti-government protests. Salmon Shaikh heads the Brookings Center in the Middle East, and he says the ambassador's visit signals a new phase in the crisis.

SALMON SHAIKH: I think this is a significant development, actually. I think the American ambassador, very courageous move on his part, as well as the French, are now looking for other ways to move this crisis forward.

AMOS: The international community has been at odds over how to deal with the Syrian uprising. The ambassador's presence in a town surrounded by Syrian tanks and security forces was a creative way to send a message, says Shaikh.

SHAIKH: I think there is a real worry that more and more people could be killed, especially in a place like Hama with the history that it has with the massacre in 1982. I think it also signals that their patience has run out with this regime.

AMOS: The protest movement in Hama and elsewhere presents a challenge to the Assad regime. Did the ambassador's visit make a difference today? Wissam Tarif is the head of Syrian human rights group.

WISSAM TARIF: Well, we have definitely seen a much lower death toll today in Syria. And the death toll today in Hama was zero. So it had an impact definitely.

AMOS: In Hama, anti-government protesters grew bolder today, says Damascus- based activist Amer Sadeq.

AL SADEQ: Well, we believe the demonstration was a little bit bigger than what it was last week, and we believe it was like that because there was no security intervention.

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut.

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