Tens of thousands fill the streets of cities across Syria — and for the first time, the capital of Damascus – after weekly prayers to defy the regime of President Bashar Assad. The protests suggest that the use of extreme force has failed and perhaps outraged some on the sidelines.
Tens of thousands of Syrians poured into the streets of the capital, Damascus, and other cities after weekly prayers Friday, overcoming an official campaign of violence and intimidation to deliver a powerful message of defiance against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
For the first time since a protest movement began six weeks ago, large protests broke out in the very heart of Damascus, the Maidan district of the capital, according to witnesses reached by telephone and amateur video posted to the Internet.
“The people want the downfall of the regime!” protesters shouted as they marched with banners just southwest of the capital’s Old City.
They called for an end to a military clampdown on Dara, the southern city where the protests began.
New protests also erupted in the coastal city of Baniyas, the northwestern town of Kafr Zita, Jassem in the south and throughout the restive suburbs of the capital, according to video posted to the Internet, witness accounts and activists.
“We’re the youth revolution, not thugs or terrorists,” they chanted in the Damascus suburb of Saqba.
In Homs, the country’s third-largest city, located on the Lebanese border, activists set up live-streaming video coverage of the marching, suggesting a new level of technological know-how to overcome the regime’s restrictions on media.
The scale of the demonstrations suggested that the Syrian regime’s use of extreme force, including the deployment of tanks and the unleashing of gunfire on peaceful pro-democracy protesters, had failed to quell the uprising, and may have even outraged some who earlier were on the sidelines.
“To heaven we go, martyrs by the millions,” they chanted in Deir Azour, according to video posted online.
A witness reached in Dara said at least five people were killed in protests in the city, where the Syrian army’s 4th Armored Division, under the command of Assad’s brother Maher, has all but occupied the city.
“With our souls, with our blood we sacrifice for you, Dara,” protesters called out in the ethnic Kurdish city of Qamishli, in eastern Syria.
Syrian opposition activists had called for a nationwide “Friday of Rage” after noon prayers to protest the violent crackdown on democracy advocates.
Syrian security officials were poised to suppress any signs of civil disobedience.
“The Interior Ministry urges citizens to actively participate in boosting stability and security and helping concerned authorities carry out their duties to achieve this national goal by refraining from staging any rallies, demonstrations, or sit-ins under any title,” said a statement broadcast on Syrian state television.
Special correspondents Meris Lutz and Roula Hajjar in Beirut contributed to this report.
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