Syria: protesters defy emergency rule

Some 200 Syrians defied a state emergency in place since 1963 to gather in Damascus to demand a political opening March 15. “God, Syria, liberty” and “Syrians, where are you?” chanted young men and women, urging their compatriots to join the “peaceful march” which unfolded in a central souk of Old City Damascus. The protesters marched through landmark souks al-Hamidiyeh and Hariqa, drawing dozens of other Syrians with them. But security forces broke up the group and arrested two.

A Facebook page entitled “The Syrian revolution against Bashar al-Assad 2011,” which has amassed about 42,000 fans, had been promoting demonstrations “in all Syrian cities” on March 15 to demand a “revolution until liberty and for justice.” The statement reads: “Let’s call for a Syria free of tyranny, emergency law and special tribunals; a Syria without corruption or theft or monopoly of wealth, exempt from poverty and illiteracy; and for a civil state.” The organizers took pride that residents of Qamishli, a city in northeast Syria with a Kurdish majority, protested on March 12 against “corruption and injustice.”

The same day, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that political reforms would be implemented this year. “The people of this region are the most qualified to decide their destiny,” he was quoted by the official SANA news agency. (Middle East Online, March 16)

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  1. More protests in Damascus
    Plain-clothes Syrian police broke up a protest after Friday prayers at the main mosque in central Damascus March 18, dragging away at least two activists, as videos purportedly of rallies in other cities began to surface online. “There is no God but God,” a crowd inside the men’s section of the Omayyed Mosque started chanting in crescendo after prayers at noon. (Middle East Online, March 18)