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Following Bloody Crackdown Assad Seeks to Appease Demonstrators

After a slow start on Friday, protests erupt in several Syrian towns, prompting a bloody crackdown; Saturday Assad releases hundreds of prisoners.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 3/27/2011, 5:08 AM / Last Update: 3/27/2011, 7:28 AM

On Friday, despite a slow beginning to the declared 'day of dignity,' protests spread from the southern Syrian town of Daraa to other towns and cities, including the capital, Damascus.

Friday's protests prompted a bloody crackdown and represents the most significant challenge to the Syria's 45-year-old President Bashar al-Assad since he assumed power eleven years ago. During the demonstrations, security forces fired tear gas and in some cases live ammunition at demonstrators, killing at least one in Damascus, four in Latakia, and 20 in Sanamin, according to al-Jazeera.

On Saturday, Damascus remained tense but quiet, but protesters set fire to offices of the ruling party in southern and western Syria, the Associated Press reported. In Latakia, a religiously mixed city on the Mediterranean coast, crowds burned tires and attacked cars and shops, and officials said at least two people were killed there when security forces confronted protesters who had set a statue of former President Hafez al-Assad ablaze.

“There is a kind of anger and tension,” said Abd el-Karim Rihawi, the head of the Syrian Human Rights League, adding, "Assad must implement reforms immediately. He has some time, and I think it will control the anger of the people.”

Syria’s security forces have used an efficient machinery of repression with 15 secret police agencies in the mix during the Assad family's forty year rule. In 1982, Hafez al-Assad leveled the city of Hama to suppress an Islamic uprising there, killing between 17,000 and 40,000 people.

Now, observers say, his son faces a choice: emulate his father or implement the demands of the protesters, which include lifting the emergency law, freeing political prisoners and allowing free assembly. So far, most protesters have not been demanding Assad’s ouster.