Syrian forces gun down scores

 Liberation call: A picture taken by a mobile phone shows Syrian anti-government protesters taking part in a demonstration in Banias in northeastern Syria on Friday as calls were launched for nationwide “Good Friday” rallies. AFPSecurity forces shot dead at least 25 pro-democracy protesters in Syria on Friday, human rights campaigners said.

They were killed in suburbs and towns surrounding Damascus, in the central city of Homs and in the southern town of Izra’a, two established Syrian human rights organisations keeping a tally of civilian deaths said.

Tens of thousands of Syrians took the streets at the start of a sixth week of protests and chanted for the “overthrow of the regime”, reflecting the steady hardening of demands which initially focused on reforms and greater freedoms.
Protests swept the country of 20 million people, from the Mediterranean city of Banias to the eastern towns of Deir al-Zor and Qamishli. In Damascus security forces fired teargas to disperse 2,000 protesters in the district of Midan.

More than 220 protesters have been killed since unrest broke out on March 18 in southern Syria, rights groups say, including 21 protesters killed this week in the central city of Homs.

Assad signed a decree on Thursday lifting emergency law, imposed by his Baath Party when it took power in a coup 48 years ago, but other laws still give security forces wide powers and opposition figures have stepped up demands for concessions.

In the first joint statement since the protests broke out, activists coordinating the mass demonstrations demanded on Friday the abolition of Baath Party monopoly on power and the establishment of a democratic political system.

“All prisoners of conscience must be freed. The existing security apparatus has to be dismantled and replaced by one with with specific jurisdiction and which operates according to law,” they said in the statement.

Aided by his family and a pervasive security apparatus, Assad, 45, has absolute power in Syria.

In the city of Hama, where Assad’s father ruthlessly crushed an armed Islamist uprising nearly 30 years ago, a witness said security forces opened fire to prevent protesters reaching the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party.

“We saw two snipers on the building. None of us had weapons. There are casualties, possibly two dead,” said the witness.

Ahead of the main weekly prayers on Friday, which have often proved the launching pads for major demonstrations, the army deployed in Homs and police put up checkpoints across Damascus, apparently trying to prevent protests sweeping in from suburbs.

After prayers finished in Deraa, several thousand protesters gathered chanting anti-Assad slogans. “The Syrian people will not be subjugated. Go away doctor (Assad). We will trample on you and your slaughterous regime,” they shouted.

Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at Oklahoma University, said the Syrian government had “drawn a line in the sand” after offering concessions, and that Assad made clear he believed “there is no longer reason to demonstrate”.

The organisers of the revolution vowed to turn out their largest numbers yet ... They are determined to bring down the regime and understand that this is their chance,” he said.

“Friday will be a day of reckoning”.
Joe Stork of Human Right Watch said Assad’s “reforms will only be meaningful if Syria’s security services stop shooting, detaining, and torturing protesters.”

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