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2 protesters killed amid calls for Syria President Assad's death

Syrian security forces kill two during protests by hundreds of people in several cities on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The demand for Assad's death shows mounting anger among activists.

August 26, 2011|By Ellen Knickmeyer and Alexandra Sandels, Los Angeles Times
  • Syrian opposition demonstrators in Istanbul, Turkey, wave their national flags Friday during a protest against Syrian President Bashar Assad outside the Syrian consulate.
Syrian opposition demonstrators in Istanbul, Turkey, wave their national… (Reuters )

Reporting from Beirut — Security forces in the eastern Syrian city of Dair Alzour responded to calls for the death of President Bashar Assad with live gunfire, killing at least two protesters on the final Friday of a bloody Muslim holy month of Ramadan that has tested the resolve of Assad's government and those seeking its overthrow.

In Dair Alzour and other cities where protests erupted Friday, demonstrators had previously called for Assad's removal rather than his demise. The demand for his death signaled the increased anger among activists at government offensives that have killed 2,200 protesters and other civilians during five months of protests, according to the United Nations.

"The people want the execution of the president!" crowds of men chanted in Dair Alzour, an opposition stronghold that has been stormed repeatedly by tanks and troops, and in the Damascus suburb of Medan.

Across Syria, marchers took encouragement from the week's rebel takeover of Tripoli, which sent longtime Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi into hiding. In the Syrian opposition stronghold of Homs, men with children perched on their shoulders marched beneath a banner carrying the slogan "Today Qadhafi, tomorrow Bashar."

"Congratulations to the rats of Libya,'' the message on another sign read, mocking an insult that Kadafi had incessantly used to describe Libya's armed opposition.

Friday's protests, taking place in the suburbs of Damascus, in opposition stronghold cities of Homs and Dair Alzour, and in the Syrian business center of Aleppo and elsewhere, showed Syria's opposition movement had come out of the month of Ramadan battered but intact. All sides in Syria's protests had expected an intensification of protests during the month, making the holiday a test that the government and the opposition have so far survived.

Protesters chose the slogan "Friday of patience and steadfastness'' for the final Friday of Ramadan demonstrations.

But there were none of the massive protests of tens of thousands, as occurred earlier in the uprising in the city of Hama, before a government siege killed more than 200 people there, according to human rights groups and activists.

Instead on Friday, hundreds of protesters came out from early morning, when they marched by candlelight, into the broad light of afternoon.

"There's no going back," a protester said Friday afternoon by telephone from the northern Syrian town of Maaret Numan, where he reported hundreds of demonstrators in the squares, tanks and military checkpoints on the streets, and security forces raiding homes. "For the Syrian people, there's no going back.''

In Dair Alzour, large numbers of government troops and armed government supporters deployed, keeping crowds to no more than a few hundred at a time, another activist said by telephone. Security forces fired into crowds, killing two people, the witness said. The Local Coordinating Committees-Syria opposition network gave the same figure.

Away from the main streets of Dair Alzour, security forces in the town were combing neighborhoods and making arrests, the activist said. "They walk around with lists of wanted people, searching for them."

In the suburbs of Damascus and in Aleppo, security forces also used live fire and tear gas against protesters, according to activists. About 100 people gathered in a rare protest in the heart of Damascus, on the central Baghdad Street, before dispersing within minutes, activists said.

Knickmeyer and Sandels are special correspondents.

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