Eight killed in Syria protests, world pressure grows
AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian security forces shot dead eight people on Friday, rights campaigners said, as protesters defied a nationwide crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad.
Rights groups estimate at least 1,000 people have been killed over 10 weeks. Leaders at a Group of Eight meeting in France said they were "appalled" at the killing of peaceful protesters, demanding an immediate end to the use of force.
On Friday, campaigners said three protesters were killed in the central city of Homs, another three in the Damascus suburb of Qatana, one in the town of Zabadani near the border with Lebanon, and one in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Troops also fired at protesters calling for the "overthrow of the regime" in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, a human rights group and residents said. Demonstrators later staged a night rally in a city square, a witness said.
Deir al-Zor is the capital of Deir al-Zor province which accounts for most of Syria's 380,000 barrel per day oil output.
"The 'Amn' (security police) fired in the air to disperse them but they did not move. I have two sons among the crowd," said one witness in the city.
"The demands of the street in Deir al-Zor were 'freedom, justice and equality'. They changed to 'overthrow of the regime' when the Amn started killing protesters," he added.
People's anger in the region is confounded by water shortages there in the last few years which some experts blame on mismanagement and corruption.
Activists said demonstrations continued into the night in Hama. Tens of thousands of people marched earlier in the city where an army assault to crush an armed Islamist uprising in 1982 killed up to 30,000 people.
Separately on Friday, troops opened fire at a group of youth marching at night in the town of Madaya, a resident said.
"They were chanting 'God is greatest' when they came under fire. We do not know where to take them. All the roads out of Madaya are blocked by the army," said the resident, who gave his name as Abu Ali.
Damascus has ignored growing Western condemnation and sanctions and looks determined to crush the pro-democracy revolt by sending out security forces and tanks to subdue unrest it blames on armed groups backed by foreign powers.
In a communique issued at the G8 summit, the leaders of the seven Western powers plus Russia called on Damascus to respond to the Syrian people's "legitimate demands for freedom."
State television said nine "martyrs," including police and civilians, were killed by armed groups on Friday. Authorities say at least 120 soldiers and police have been killed since the protests erupted in March.
The biggest demonstrations typically occur on Fridays after Muslim prayers, and they have also generally been the deadliest. But the bloodshed this week appeared to be on a lesser scale than witnessed recently.
Activists have called for more demonstrations this Friday, calling it "the Friday of the guardians of the homeland," the nickname of the Syrian army. They say scores of soldiers had been shot by security agents for refusing to fire on civilians.
Human rights activists said protests flared in the eastern cities of Albu Kamal, where people burned pictures of Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who this week threw his weight behind Assad.
Demonstrations also broke out in Damascus districts of Barzeh, Rukn al-Din and Qaboun, several of the capital's suburbs, in Latakia on the coast, Deraa in the south and in the Kurdish northeast.
"God is greater than the oppressor... Death rather than humiliation," shouted thousands in the Damascus suburb of Hajar al-Asswad.
Witness reports of events, and official accounts of the violence, are hard to verify independently because Assad's government barred most foreign media from the country not long after the start of the unrest, which was sparked by democratic revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
"Unfortunately, I regret to say that Syrian leaders have made a formidable step back. In these conditions, Syria no longer has our trust," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, speaking at the G8 summit in Deauville, France.
Ten weeks into the unrest, protests have failed to gain a critical mass as security forces prevent mass rallies and Damascus and Aleppo have yet to witness big demonstrations.
The Baath Party suppresses any dissent and there is no unified opposition structure to lead the popular movement. Opposition activists in exile will meet in Turkey next week to help coordinate the campaign.
(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Luke Baker and John Irish in Deauville, France; and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Yara Bayoumy in Beirut; Editing by Maria Golovnina)
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Protesters respond to calls to defend their demonstration from possible police intervention. Slideshow