Syria’s ‘Day of Defiance’ ends in bloodshed

Anthony Shadid reports:

Security forces fired on demonstrators in six Syrian towns and cities in a day of protests that activists declared a “Friday of Defiance.” Twenty-six people died, but a withering crackdown subdued the most restive town and prevented many protesters from gathering in larger demonstrations, activists and human rights groups said.

The worst violence was reported in Homs, Syria’s third largest city, where activists described a chaotic, bloody day, as tanks entered the town. The government said 10 soldiers had been killed there by what it described as “terrorists,” while activists said at least 9 soldiers had defected to their side. Sixteen protesters were killed, they said.

“We answered the call to protest today, but the intelligence forces attacked us right away by opening fire on us,” said a resident in Homs, reached by telephone.

Another resident there said the security forces fired without provocation.

“They took us by surprise,” he said by phone, over the sound of gunfire.

Both sides in the seven-week struggle claimed victories of sorts on Friday. Thousands of demonstrators gathered again in dozens of towns and cities, despite the government’s deployment of security and military forces from the Mediterranean coast to the steppe in southern Syria. But the crackdown seemed to have slowed the force of the protests, and even some of the government’s opponents acknowledged that crowds may have been smaller than on past Fridays.

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