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Unprecedented Public Protest Against Assad in Syria

Syrian troops beat activists who held unprecedented “Day of Rage” protests, demanding free elections and a change of the Assad regime.
By David Lev
First Publish: 3/15/2011, 10:04 PM / Last Update: 3/15/2011, 10:19 PM

After the successful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, it may be Syria's turn. On Tuesday, activists opposed to the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad conducted “Day of Rage” protests, demanding free elections and a change of government. In response, Syrian security troops opened fire in some areas, and beat them with clubs and sticks.

Protests took place in Damascus, Aleppo, and the northern border town of Qamishli, Syrian opposition groups operating in the West said. One witness told the BBC that hundreds of people protested in central Damascus and that police did not fire on protesters but did charge the crowd, arresting six demonstrators. In Aleppo, witnesses said that police acted violently, firing into the air and beating protesters.

A Syrian opposition activist, Suheir Attasi, told Al-Jazeera Tuesday night that “this is the first time that Syrian citizens are calling for freedom. The protesters are regular people who seek freedom and hope for a result in Syria similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt.” Syrians from all ethnic groups and religious factions were represented among the protesters, she said. Another large protest is set to take place on Wednesday in Damascus, she added.

Word of Tuesday's protest was spread via Facebook and other social media sites. Tuesday's protests were the largest so far in Syria since the beginning of December, when the current wave of protests against Arab governments began in Tunisia.

Opposition activists say that there have been several attempts to organize protests since then, but they did not really have a major impact until Tuesday. Assad has been quoted as saying that there is no reason for protests, since his government "pays attention to the needs of Syrians."

While the spotlight has been on Bahrain and Libya in recent weeks, while Syria seemed to be out of the picture of MIddle East upheaval, no one expected change in Egypt either just a short while ago. It remains to be seen if Syria's ruler goes the way of Egypt's Mubarak or decides to take his cue from Qaddafi.