04/22/2011, 00.00
SYRIA

Great Friday of protest in Syria as opposition and regime engage in tug-of-war

The opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime takes to the streets in various cities to demand radical reform, the release of political prisoners and more democracy. Churches cancel Good Friday processions in public places because of demonstrations.
Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – After noon prayers, Syria’s opposition  was back in the streets to demand democratic reforms in the first demonstrations since Bashar al-Assad’s new cabinet took office and the state of emergency imposed in 1963 was lifted. Despite changes, repression continues however with the arrest of an historic leader of the pro-democracy opposition. Churches across the country have also decided to cancel Good Friday ceremonies in public places because of heightened tensions in the country.

At dawn today, hundreds of police agents and members of the security forces, the infamous ‘Mukhabarat’, took over strategic sites ahead of the planned opposition’s protest. Checkpoints were set up in the main cities to allow police to check identities.

Tensions are particularly high in Homs, scene of bloody clashes in recent days. Human rights organisations have reported that 228 people have been killed since protests began a month ago.

Unrest began first in Deraa, southern Syria, before spreading to the capital, Aleppo, Baniyas and Homs, drawing in more and more people.

The regime has reacted to the challenge with a two-pronged approach: gestures of overture on the one hand, and an iron fist on the other.

The opposition’s response has been to raise the ante, going so far as to call for the president to resign.

Bashar al-Assad, who took over after his father Hafez al-Assad died 11 years ago, blamed the unrest on radical Salafi groups.

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