Worried Syrian regime offers promise of change

The promises were immediately rejected yesterday by many activists who called for demonstrations around the country on Friday in response to a crackdown that protesters say killed dozens of anti-government marchers in the city of Daraa.

"We will not forget the martyrs of Daraa," a resident told The Associated Press by telephone. "If they think this will silence us they are wrong."

The coming days will be a crucial test of the surge of popular discontent that has unseated autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and threatens to push several others from power.

On one side in Syria stands a regime unafraid of using extreme violence to quash internal unrest. In one infamous example, it leveled entire sections of the city of Hama with artillery and bulldozers to put down an uprising by the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in 1982.
Facing the regime is a loosely organised protest movement in the main city of southern Syria's drought-parched agricultural heartland.

Sheltering in Daraa's Roman-era old city, the protesters have persisted through seven days of increasing violence by security forces, but have not inspired significant unrest in other parts of the country.

"Even if the government can contain violence to Daraa for the time-being, protests will spread," Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma, wrote in a recent blog posting. "The wall of fear has broken."

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