Friday protests in Syria have become routine since residents of the southern city of Deraa first demonstrated following the arrest of a group of teenagers for writing anti-government graffiti. This past Friday was no different, with what some said were the largest protests yet since March. Significantly, protests also occurred in the capital of Damascus and its suburbs. Al Jazeera reports that at least 32 were killed on Friday and five more on Saturday, when tens of thousands attended funerals for those who died in clashes with security forces.
Also on Saturday, at least 400 members of the opposition, including both conservative Islamists and secular liberals, met in the National Salvation Congress in Istanbul and called for a campaign of civil disobedience to force President Bashar al-Assad from power. Activists in Damascus had planned to hold a conference at the same time, but had cancelled it after the violence the day before; they were able to participate in Saturday’s conference via telephone. Said Wael al Hafez, one of the conference participants:
“We want to raise the intensity of the peaceful confrontation by civil disobedience and to choke the regime economically and paralyse the state with the least damage.”
There was talk of forming a shadow government at the conference, but the idea was abandoned over concerns that it would “monopolise” the opposition. As the BBC reports, the Saturday meeting also “exposed divisions” among the opposition, with Kurdish activists “who have long complained about discrimination – pulling out” after saying they were marginalized by others and their issues ignored.
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who is currently visiting in Turkey — which was once a close ally of Assad but has recently joined those calling for reforms — said:
“What’s happening in Syria is very uncertain and troubling because many of us had hoped that President Assad would make the reforms that were necessary.
“The brutality has to stop, there must be a legitimate sincere effort with the opposition to try to make changes.”
Earlier this week, Clinton had said that Assad has “lost legitimacy” and is “not indispensible.” On Monday, the US and French embassies in Damascus were attacked by pro-Assad supporters, a few days after both the US and French ambassadors had visited Hama where wide-scale anti-government protests have occurred amid calls for Assad to step down.
Also early last week, the Syrian government held a two-day “national dialogue” which many opposition figures refused to attend. The government continues to blame “armed gangs” for the violence — according to recent interviews with Syrian soldiers, BBC journalist Ian Pannell interviews Syrian soldiers, who say they have been ordered to fire on civilians.
The video below shows a protest in Deir Ezzor, site of some of Friday’s largest protests.
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Photo of mourners in Damascus taken earlier this year by syriana2011