Syrian army deployed near Daraa (Egyptian Chronicles).
Anthony Shadid reports:
Security forces in Syria met thousands of demonstrators with fusillades of live ammunition after noon prayers on Friday, killing at least 81 people in the bloodiest day of the five-week-old Syrian uprising, according to protesters, witnesses and accounts on social networking sites.
From the Mediterranean coast and Kurdish east to the steppe of the Houran in southern Syria, protesters gathered in at least 20 cities and towns, including in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus. Cries for vengeance intersected with calls for the government’s fall, marking a potentially dangerous new dynamic in the revolt.
“We want revenge, and we want blood,” said Abu Mohamed, a protester in Azra, a southern town that had the highest death toll Friday. “Blood for blood.”
The breadth of the protests — and people’s willingness to defy security forces who were deployed en masse — painted a picture of turmoil in one of the Arab world’s most authoritarian countries. In scenes unprecedented only weeks ago, protesters tore down pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and toppled statues of his father, Hafez, in two towns on the capital’s outskirts, according to witnesses and video footage.
But despite the bloodshed, which promised to unleash another day of unrest as the dead are buried Saturday, the scale of the protests, so far, seemed to fall short of the popular upheaval that revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia represented. Organizers said the movement was still in its infancy, and the government, building on 40 years of institutional inertia, still commanded the loyalty of the military, economic elite and sizable minorities of Christian and heterodox Muslim sects who fear the state’s collapse.
Coming a day after Mr. Assad endorsed the lifting of draconian emergency rule, the killings represented another chapter in the government’s strategy of alternating promises of concessions with a grim crackdown that has left it staggering but still entrenched.
“There are indications the regime is scared, and this is adding to the momentum, but this is still the beginning,” said Wissam Tarif, the executive director of Insan, a Syrian human rights group. “Definitely, we haven’t seen the millions we saw in Egypt or Tunisia. The numbers are still humble, and it’s a reality we have to acknowledge.”
The images of carnage marked one of the deadliest days of the so-called Arab Spring, and the coming days may be replete with its lessons. In other places in the Middle East, violence has led to funerals where many more are often killed. The government’s belated attempts at reform, meanwhile, have often simply escalated protesters’ demands.
In that, the government faces perhaps its greatest challenge: to maintain its bastions of support with promises for the future and threats that its collapse means chaos, against the momentum that the vivid symbols of martyrdom have so often encouraged.
“We are not scared anymore,” said Abu Nadim, a protester in Douma, a town on the outskirts of Damascus. “We are sad and we are disappointed at this regime and at the president. Protests, demonstrations and death are now part of the daily routine.”
The White House issued a statement on Friday condemning the violence and accusing President Assad of using “the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies.”
In the capital, a city that underlines the very authority of the Assad family’s decades of rule, hundreds gathered after Friday Prayer at the al-Hassan Mosque. Some of them chanted, “The people want the fall of the government,” a slogan made famous in both Egypt and Tunisia. But security forces quickly dispersed the protests with tear gas, witnesses said. Syria’s second-largest city, Aleppo, appeared to remain relatively quiet.
The government’s determination to keep larger cities somewhat subdued may have led to some of the highest death tolls. Protesters in some towns on Damascus’s outskirts said security forces fired at them to prevent them from marching toward the capital. And in Azra, protesters said, government forces were intent on keeping them from Dara’a, a poor town 20 miles away that helped unleash the revolt in March.
A protester in Azra who gave his name as Abu Ahmad said he brought three of those killed to the mosque — one shot in the head, one in the chest and one in the back — the oldest of whom was 20 years old. Video that was posted on social networking sites showed a man carrying the bloodied corpse of a young boy, apparently shot by the police.
Taken together, most of the victims died in protests in the towns around Damascus, where demonstrators have sought to occupy a city landmark in a replay of Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Both sides seemed to understand the significance of the capital: Mass protests there would serve as a devastating blow to the government’s prestige.
“This video from Sayyida Zeinab area in Sham showing protesters toppling Hafez El-Assad statue” (Egyptian Chronicles):
“Here is video showing the live ammunition used against unarmed civilian protesters in Homs , not less than four were killed during the filming of this clip according to its owner.” (Egyptian Chronicles):
Protest in Homs: