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Tuesday, March 29, 2011     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Optimism in Damascus and determination not
to take the regime’s bait

By a Syrian journalist

DAMASCUS — It has been four days since protesters mobilized all over Syria after the brutal measures taken by the regime to quell protests in Daraa.


Hundreds of Syrians march from the Omayyed mosque in the center of Damascus' Old City chanting: "Daraa is Syria" and "We will sacrifice ourselves for Syria." At least 10 people were killed Friday in southern Syria.     AFP
The protests have now moved far beyond demands for reform of the corrupt and despotic bureaucracy to calls for the toppling of the Assad regime with all its symbols and trappings. Opposition leaders are even compiling a list of regime collaborators to prosecute.

The tension here is palpable, due to the heavy security personnel presence, and news about the atrocities the security forces and the pro-Assad youth gangs are committing in Latakia, Daraa and Hums.

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Small pickup trucks rented by the regime and mounted with flags and pictures of President Assad can be seen parked in front of secondary schools and colleges. Their drivers’ mission is to carry young students, conscripts, and “gypsies” paid — some forced — by the regime to chant pro-regime slogans.

The pro-regime protests are agitating the older locals, and have actually caused some here, such as such as Mazzeh 86, Kiswa, Madaya, Zabadani and Ghouta to join anti-regime protests.

There is also an air of anticipation and confusion due to the scarcity of reliable information.

The president, for example had been expected to appear on national television with major announcements. But instead, people have only heard from his media advisor, Buthaina Shaban, who is despised by the protesters this reporter has spoken with due to what they describe as a steady stream of lies and empty promises, such as the pledge to stop violence against protesters.

Many Syrians are openly speculating about who is actually in power, Bashar Assad, or his brother Maher and the old guards. Many want to believe that the president has no hand in the violence, nonetheless, the fate of the regime is sealed; if the president appears on TV, it would mean that he had taken part in the atrocities, if not, he had been a victim, and this will lead to more protests.

On Monday, people in Daraa, Latakia and Qamishly reportedly formed civil groups to protect themselves against the Assad gangs that opposition sourecs say are trying to entice people into sectarian violence. Their new goal is to encourage the public to take up arms, the sources said. Government security forces are reportedly spreading rumors of rape and kidnaps in order to encourage an armed uprising.

As for the protesters in Damascus, the next step would be taking over the Umayyad Square in a peaceful demonstration and set up camp there. The demonstration is currently scheduled for Friday. Syrians this reporter have spoken to are generally optimistic. After all it is spring, and the feeling is that anything could happen.

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