Protest erupts in Syria's Druze heartland: witness

AMMAN Thu Apr 14, 2011 3:25pm EDT

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AMMAN (Reuters) - About 300 people marched and chanted "freedom, freedom" in the city of Sweida in Syria's Druze heartland on Thursday, a witness said.

Security police and irregular loyalists of President Bashar al-Assad used sticks to disperse the protesters, the witness told Reuters.

The protest was the first reported in the Druze region of Syria since unprecedented demonstrations against Assad's authoritarian rule started in the city of Deraa almost one month ago and spread elsewhere.

The demonstrators also chanted "We sacrifice our blood and our soul for you martyrs," a reference to dozens of people killed by security forces in Deraa and other Syrian cities.

They had assembled at a square named after Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, a revered Druze figure who led the Great Syrian Revolt against French rule from 1925 to 1927.

Sweida and Deraa, a Sunni city, are situated in the same Hauran Plain, an agricultural region south of Damascus.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; editing by Janet Lawrence)

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