04/12/2011, 00.00
SYRIA
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University students protests in Damascus as military lay siege to Baniyas

Police is unleashed against student protesters, killing one and arresting scores. This is the new element in the Syrian crisis. Many die in the coastal town, and a new appeal for street protest is issued on Facebook.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – A protest by university students in Damascus (pictured) is the new element in the Syria crisis where the regime has failed so far to stop demonstrations, this despite a bloody crackdown and scores of arrests among opponents. The military is laying siege to Baniyas, scene of clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the past few days. Power and phone lines have been cut, so news coming from the town is fragmentary, with stories about soldiers firing on protesters. Witnesses say that at least four people have been killed.

These deaths are the latest in a list that has already topped 200 since the start of the protests, opponents say. And the toll keeps rising. Today on Facebook, a group calling itself Syrian Revolution 2011 launched an appeal, calling on Syrians to protest this afternoon across the country.

Confirming the clashes, Syria’s official news agency SANA, reported today that nine Syrian soldiers were killed in an ambush by “a group of terrorists”. It also cited a long list of “martyrs”, soldiers and police killed or wounded in the line of duty in recent days.

Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria's National Organisation for Human Rights, said that one student died at the university after he was shot in the demonstration.

Many students have been arrested and video footage posted online shows plainclothes security forces beating protesters.

The pro-freedom protest by students is an exceptional occurrence in Syria, especially in Damascus, where controls by security forces are tight.

The government, following promises made by President Bashar al-Assad, insists that the path of renewal needs domestic security and continues to accuse foreign forces to be behind the protests. However, it appears that Syrian authorities have chosen repression.

Whilst some arrested protesters were released in Deraa, the city that started the protest movements three weeks ago, members of the (illegal) opposition and human rights activists are still being arrested.

A couple of days ago, Samira al-Masalma, the editor-in-chief of state-run newspaper Tishreen, was sacked after she slammed the military and police for the violence, Al-Arabiya television reported today.

Many Western governments have protested against the repression. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also told Assad that he was "greatly disturbed” by the reports of violence.

“What is clear is that, until now, the situation in Syria is still far from any real solutions,” wrote Asharq Alawsat in an editorial article. “Violence is still dominating the situation,” which “is not, nor will it ever be the solution”.

Assad has stopped well short of the protesters' demands, promising instead to form committees to look into reforms.

“The Syrian regime has no choice but to implement genuine reforms in order to survive.”  (PD)

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