Mon, May 23, 2011 - Page 1 News List

More victims laid to rest in tense Syria

AFP and Reuters, DAMASCUS and AMMAN

Syrians prepared for more angry funerals yesterday after security forces gunned down at least 11 mourners during burials for anti-government protesters killed the previous day in the third-largest city Homs.

The funerals in Homs, which is turning into a focal point in the nine-week uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, were taking place amid mounting calls by the international community for a stop to the violence.

Those killed on Saturday were marching during the funeral procession of 10 people who were among 44 killed during protests that swept the country on Friday.

“Tens of thousands had accompanied the funeral procession from the city’s main mosque to Tal al-Nasr cemetery,” an activist told Agence France-Presse by telephone. “The shooting began as people were coming out of the cemetery.”

He said an unknown number of people were wounded as security forces fired on protesters in Saqba, a suburb of Damascus.

“The demonstrators hurled stones at the security forces ... who opened fire, leaving some wounded,” the witness said.

Human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouna said she had the names of at least 11 people killed at the funeral.

A witness who was at the funeral and spoke to Reuters by telephone said the mourners shouted “overthrow the regime” and that they came under fire as they were leaving the cemetery 8km north of the center of Homs.

“The shooting was in cold blood. People were streaming peacefully out of the cemetery,” he said.

Although the government maintains the killings were the work of “armed terrorist gangs” bent on sowing discord, activists say it was clear the regime was quickly losing credibility.

“Their ferocious crackdown has failed because the wall of fear has come crumbling down despite the massive arrests and torture,” an activist said by telephone.

“And no one is buying their talk of national dialogue anymore because the government is not addressing the crux of the issue,” he added. “The streets are seething with anger because people don’t know where we are headed.

Foreign media are not allowed to travel in the country to report on the unrest, making it difficult to verify information.

At least 900 people have been killed and thousands more have been arrested since the pro--democracy protests began in mid-March, according to rights groups.

The government has underplayed the scope of the unrest and maintains that the protests which have swept the country since mid-March are the work of “armed terrorist gangs” backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.

It has also repeatedly claimed that the crisis was at an end.

Although the capital Damascus has been largely spared from the unrest until now, a number of demonstrations were held in and around the city on Friday, but were quickly dispersed by security forces.

Should the protests gain a foothold in Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s second major power center, that would mark a major setback for the regime.

The violence on Friday and Saturday came as the international community ratcheted up the pressure on Assad, with US President Barack Obama bluntly telling him to lead a transition or “get out.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the weekend also urged Assad to act before it is too late.

“Time is running out,” he said.

“If they stick to the method of using the security forces to suppress the protests without introducing concrete reforms ... there could be really negative consequences that would sadden us all,” Davutoglu said.

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