March 25, 2011 / 2:25 PM / 8 years ago

Syrian protesters denounce Assad's brother

DERAA, Syria (Reuters) - Protesters in the southern Syrian city of Deraa shouted slogans Friday denouncing Maher al-Assad, brother of the Syrian president and head of the Republican Guard, a Reuters witness said.

“Maher you coward. Send your troops to liberate the Golan,” thousands chanted as they headed to the main square in the city after the funeral of at least five protesters killed by security forces this week. Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967.

Maher al-Assad, who keeps a low profile, is the second most powerful man in the country after Bashar.

Criticism of Syria’s ruling elite was taboo until protests erupted in Deraa a week ago demanding political freedom and an end to corruption.

Up until now, protesters had directed their wrath mainly at Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Bashar al-Assad who owns large businesses and is under specific U.S. sanctions for what Washington terms as public corruption.

Friday, protests erupted in other Syrian cities in support of Deraa, including in Hama, a city in which late President Hafez al-Assad had sent in troops to quell a 1982 armed revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood, killing thousands.

Editing by Jon Hemming

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