Tuesday, April 19, 2011

3 killed at Syrian protest after Assad vows reform

Two Stories:

3 killed at Syrian protest after Assad vows reform
Mass protests in Yemen over leader's women remark

3 killed at Syrian protest after Assad vows reform

By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Apr 17, 2011

BEIRUT – Gunmen opened fire during a funeral for a slain anti-government
protester Sunday, killing at least three people on a day when tens of
thousands of people took to the streets nationwide as part of an uprising
against the country's authoritarian regime, witnesses and activists said.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the shooting at the funeral
near Homs, 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the capital, Damascus.

In the past four weeks, Syrian security forces in uniforms and
plainclothes have launched a deadly crackdown on demonstrations, killing
at least 200 people, according to human rights groups. The government has
blamed armed gangs looking to stir up unrest for many of the killings.

One witness said gunmen wearing black clothes opened fire at hundreds of
people in the Talbiseh district in central Syria at a funeral for a
protester who was killed Saturday. Other witnesses said they saw soldiers
and security forces open fire, shooting even at homes and balconies.
Dozens were wounded, they said.

A human rights activist in Damascus confirmed the three deaths, but said
he had no information on who killed them. He confirmed the deaths through
witnesses on the ground who saw the killings and gave him the names of the

The witnesses and the activist requested anonymity for fear of reprisals
from the government.

Syria's state-run news agency later said one policeman was killed and 11
other policemen and security personnel were wounded when an "armed
criminal gang" opened fire on them in Talbiseh. It said the gang opened
fire randomly, shutting down main streets and terrorizing residents.

The killings were bound to increase pressure on President Bashar Assad,
who has tried to quell the popular uprising with a mixture of brute force
and concessions.

On Saturday, he promised to end nearly 50 years of emergency rule this
week, a key demand of the protesters.

But despite Assad's promises, the protest movement has grown and become
much bolder. Many protesters say they will settle for nothing less than
the downfall of the regime, driven by outrage over the crackdown.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of people waving Syrian flags and shouting
"We want freedom!" took to the streets across Syria, brushing off Assad's
attempts to calm things down.

"It's too late for their promises," said Bayan Bayati, a 22-year-old
Arabic literature student who was among 20,000 people who turned out
Sunday in the town of Banias. Other large gatherings were reported in the
southern city of Daraa, which has become an epicenter of the movement, and
the suburbs of Damascus.

The witness accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria
has placed tight restrictions on media outlets and expelled foreign

Threats to Assad's iron rule would have major regional repercussions,
jeopardizing a key component to Iran's sphere of influence in the Middle
East. The two countries work together to arm the Shiite militant group
Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories — groups
considered terrorists by Israel and the United States.

There also are some fears in the region, particularly from Sunni
counterweight Saudi Arabia, that Iran is quietly backing Shiite-led
protest movements across the region, in places such as Bahrain and Yemen.

The Obama administration said last week that Iran appears to be helping
Syria crack down on protesters, calling it a troubling example of Iranian
meddling in the region. Syria denied the charge.

Assad said Saturday the emergency laws will be lifted this coming week, a
key demand of protesters. Syria's widely despised emergency laws have been
in place since the ruling Baath Party came to power in 1963, giving the
regime a free hand to arrest people without charge and extending state
authority into virtually every aspect of life.

But he warned there will no longer be "an excuse" for organizing protests
once Syria lifts emergency rule and implements reforms, which he said will
include a new law allowing the formation of political parties.

Sunday's protests suggest his gestures have fallen short of satisfying the
growing demands. There was also concern that Assad will replace the
emergency laws with equally harsh restrictions on public expression.

The biggest demonstrations in Syria on Sunday were in Daraa and the
coastal town of Banias.

Witnesses reached by telephone said tens of thousands of people were
marching in Daraa, shouting "Whoever kills his own people is a traitor!"
Others shouted "The people want to topple the regime," which was the
rallying cry during protests in Egypt and Tunisia that ousted the
countries' longtime leaders.

In Banias, witnesses said up to 20,000 people took to the streets,
outraged over a raid by security forces last week and the brief detention
of hundreds of its young men. At least five people were killed in the

"They have humiliated us. They took away our men," said Bayati, the
literature student. She said the bullets used on protesters would have
been better used to "liberate the Golan Heights" — which Israel captured
in the 1967 Mideast War.

In the town of Suweida, near Daraa, security forces beat protesters with
batons, injuring several of them. The gathering drew about 300 people,
witnesses said. Activists also said a large demonstration was taking place
in the Damascus suburb of Douma, but calls to the town were not going

The demonstrations come despite promises by Assad to end the widely
despised state of emergency rule by next week at the latest, and implement
other reforms.

But he coupled his concession with a stern warning that further unrest
will be considered sabotage.

Assad says armed gangs and a "foreign conspiracy" are behind the unrest,
not true reform-seekers.

Mass protests in Yemen over leader's women remark

By AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press Apr 17, 2011

SANAA, Yemen – Security forces fired on anti-government protesters in
Yemen's capital Sunday as hundreds of thousands of marchers — including
many women — packed cities around the country to denounce the president
and remarks he made against women taking part in rallies demanding his

The massive turnout suggests opposition forces have been able to tap into
fresh outrage against Ali Abdullah Saleh after his comments Friday that
mingling of men and women at protests violated Islamic law.

Meanwhile, representatives from Yemen's opposition held talks with
regional mediators in the Saudi capital Sunday to discuss a proposal by
the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council for ending the unrest in which
Saleh would transfer power to his deputy.

The Yemeni opposition says nothing short of Saleh's immediate departure
would end the unrest in the impoverished Gulf nation at the southern tip
of the Arabian Peninsula. The GCC proposal also offers the president
immunity from prosecution, which the opposition rejected.

Security forces opened fire on protesters in the capital on Sunday as
marchers neared the office of the special forces, headed by Saleh's son.
Witnesses said the forces fired live ammunition, and used tear gas and
water cannons to disperse the crowd. Security agents chased protesters in
side streets.

Mohammed el-Abahi, the head doctor at the protesters' field hospital, said
at least 220 people were wounded, including 20 people hit by gunfire.

Witnesses said ambulances were prevented by security forces from reaching
some of the wounded, many of whom were taken to a mosque.

Abdul-Malek al-Youssefi, an activist and a protest organizer, said the
latest protest wave could well be "the last nail in Saleh's coffin."

A youth movement leading the anti-Salah protests called for mass
demonstrations Sunday, dubbed a day of "honor and dignity" that brought
out a strong outpouring of women upset at the president's comments on

"He aimed to provoke families and the society," said Arwa Shaher, a female
activist. "But it has only increased our resolve to pursue the people's
demands to ensure that this man, who is losing his mind day by day, goes."

A young woman first led anti-Saleh demonstrations on a university campus
in late January, but women didn't begin taking part in large numbers until
early March. It was a startling step in a nation with deeply conservative
social and Islamic traditions.

But Saleh has clung to power despite the near-daily protests and
defections by key allies in the military, powerful tribes and diplomatic
corps amid calls to fight poverty and open up the country's restricted
political life.

Security forces have launched fierce attacks on anti-government marches to
try to protect Saleh's 32-year autocratic rule. Yemeni rights groups said
the crackdown has killed more than 120 people, but it has not deterred
crowds from gathering.

In the southern city of Damar, at least 18 people were injured in clashes
with police and security agents after they fired tear gas, said medical
officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of backlash
from authorities. An activist in the city, Abdul-Rahman Ahmed, said shots
were heard but it was unclear whether it was rubber bullets or live

Elsewhere, more than 100,000 people took to the streets in Taiz, a hotbed
of protests, and large demonstrations were mounted in the port of Aden and
other cities.

Many saw Saleh's comments on women as an offense because they questioned
women's honor and invoked religious tradition in an attempt to stem
political outrage.

On Sunday, Saleh was shown on television meeting with dozens of women. He
told them: "We don't doubt our daughters, or mothers or sisters. These
women are dearer and more honorable than to be offended."

Saleh explained that what he said about mixing of the genders was out of
fear that "mobs" would attack them.

Many Yemeni women remain out of sight and conceal themselves in public
under black head-to-toe robes. The issue of child brides in Yemen has also
drawn international criticism. But unlike in neighboring Saudi Arabia,
women in Yemen are permitted to vote, run for parliament and drive cars.

Advocacy for women's rights in Yemen is rooted in the 1967-1990 period
when the once-independent south had a socialist government. After
unification, women in the south became more marginalized, resulting in
high unemployment among female university graduates.

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