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Syria forces fire at 'Good Friday' protesters

23 april 2011, 10:30
Syrian security forces fired at protesters in the central city of Homs as tens of thousands of people took to the streets for "Good Friday" rallies to test long sought-after freedoms, an activist said, AFP reports.

A day after President Bashar al-Assad scrapped emergency rule, his forces opened fire with live rounds to disperse the crowd in the central protest hub, wounding at least two people, the activist said on condition of anonymity.

Several thousand called for the fall of Assad's regime in Daraa, a key focus of the unprecedented demonstrations that broke out more than a month ago.

Assad, in power since replacing his father Hafez as president in 2000, issued decrees Thursday to overturn the state of emergency as well as abolish the state security court and allow citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations.

The demonstrations came after call by Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011 for rallies spanning the Christian and Muslim faiths on "Good Friday," which commemorates Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

Friday is also the Muslim day of rest when the biggest demonstrations have been staged across Syria after weekly prayers in mosques.

In Daraa, a Syrian human rights activist said thousands of demonstrators staged a protest calling for the fall of Assad's regime and demanding the dissolution of his feared security services.

"Around seven to 10,000 people emerged from mosques and marched to the Saraya Square (governor's HQ) in Daraa," said a witness contacted by AFP by telephone from Nicosia.

The protesters called for "the abrogation of Article 8 of the constitution which describes the ruling Baath Party as the leader in the state and in society," the witness said.

Demonstrators also called for "the dissolution of the security services as well as the fall of the regime," the witness added.

Assad's move to scrap the emergency rule and abolish the state security court was the latest in a series of concessions he has unveiled over the past month to placate the protesters.

"Lifting the emergency rule and the abolition of the state security court are positive steps but over the next few days we will monitor closely the security forces to see if they violate the law," said Rami Abdul Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Now we expect the release of thousands of people who have been sentenced" by the state security court, he said.

Amnesty International urged Syrian authorities not to suppress what it termed the "Great Friday" protests.

"It is imperative that these demonstrations are policed sensibly, sensitively and in accordance with international law to avoid further bloodshed on Syria's streets," it said.

Human Rights Watch, for its part, urged the authorities "to permit Syrians to exercise their right to peaceful assembly" on Friday.

"President al-Assad has the opportunity to prove his intentions by allowing (Friday's) protests to proceed without violent repression."

Security forces and plainclothes police have killed about 220 people in a brutal crackdown on the protests, which broke out in Damascus on March 15, according to Amnesty International.

Syria's emergency law restricted many civil liberties, including public gatherings and freedom of movement.

The state security court operated outside the ordinary judicial system and prosecuted suspects considered a threat to the government's authority.

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