Syrian forces fire to disperse protesters

At least 61 people have been killed in 10 days of anti-government protests in the southern city, posing the most serious challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

Assad has yet to respond to the demonstrations, which have spread to the port city of Latakia and Hama, but Vice-President Farouq al-Shara said Assad would announce important decisions in the next 48 hours.

The demonstrators in Deraa had converged on a main square chanting: “We want dignity and freedom” and “No to emergency laws”, the witness said. He said security forces fired in the air for several minutes, but protesters returned when they stopped.

Security forces had in recent days reduced their presence in the poor, mostly Sunni city, but residents said on Monday they had returned in strength.

“(Security forces) are pointing their machine guns at any gatherings of people in the area near the mosque,” said a trader, referring to the Omari Mosque which has been a focal point of demonstrations in the city.

Abu Tamam, a Deraa resident whose house overlooks the mosque, said soldiers and central security forces had a presence “almost every metre”. Another resident from the Jawabra tribe said snipers had repositioned on many key buildings.

“No one dares to move,” he said, speaking before Monday’s demonstration began.
Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in Syria, where the Baath Party has been in power for nearly 50 years but now faces the wave of Arab revolutionary sentiment which has toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Vice-President Shara said Assad would announce important decisions that will “please the Syrian people” in the next two days, according to Lebanese Hezbollah’s al-Manar television.

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