Thursday, March 17, 2011 E-Mail this story Free Headline Alerts
NICOSIA — Syria is facing its first significant opposition protests.
Opposition sources and Western diplomats said Syrians have been battling police and security forces in the first such confrontations since the 1980s. They said demonstrators were calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad in such cities as Aleppo, Damascus and Qamishli.
"This is the first time that Syrian citizens are calling for freedom," Syrian opposition organizer Suheir Atasi said.
The protest began on March 15 when an estimated 1,000 demonstrators poured into the market in Damascus. At least six people were arrested when Syrian anti-riot forces rushed the demonstration with batons.
"The protests show that recent predictions of the Assad regime's immunity to the popular protests sweeping the Arab world were premature," Andrew Tabler, a researcher for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said.
Similar demonstrations were reported in other cities. The opposition reported that security forces employed live fire, particularly in Aleppo.
"Dir Al Zour is surrounded like a ghetto by the Syrian army," the Reform Party of Syria said. "No media or reporters are allowed."
Protests continued on March 16 in Damascus. Anti-riot police charged about 150 demonstrators in downtown Damascus and arrested at least 15, including a leading opposition activist.
"Shop owners at Maraja square in downtown Damascus spontaneously confronted the instigators, chanting national slogans and rejecting any attempts to spread chaos and destabilize the homeland," Interior Minister Mohammed Al Ali said.
In February, the Assad regime prevented mass protests inspired by those that toppled the regime in Egypt and Tunisia. But opposition sources said a series of protests were organized through Facebook and other social media Web sites.
"The opposition is using different tactics," RPS said. "Instead of naming locations, they have assigned different numbers to streets, corners, and meeting places. It forces the regime to deploy a large number of security forces to cover a whole city."