In new protest, Syrian women block main highway

April 13, 2011

Thousands of Syrian women and children holding white flags and olive branches blocked a main coastal highway Wednesday, demanding that authorities free people detained during a crackdown on opponents of the government, witnesses said.

The crowd called for the release of hundreds of men rounded up in the northeastern villages of Baida and Ejnad and surrounding areas in recent days.

“We will not be humiliated!” the participants shouted, according to witnesses who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. The crowd had gathered along the main road between the coastal cities of Tartous and Baniyas.

Protests erupted in Syria a month ago and have been growing steadily, with tens of thousands of people calling for sweeping reforms. President Bashar al-Assad’s government has responded both with force and promise of reforms.

More than 200 people have been killed during the unrest, according to Syria’s leading pro-democracy group, the Damascus Declaration.

In an apparent attempt to appease the women, authorities released about 100 of the detainees and took them to where the demonstrators had gathered, prompting cheers and cries of triumph, a participating witness said.

The protester said the sit-in will continue until all the men are released.

Also Wednesday, activists said student protesters gathered at Damascus University in the capital and at Aleppo University in the north. Another protest was reported outside the state-run news agency’s offices in the capital.

The reports lacked detail, and they could not be immediately confirmed. Syria has expelled most foreign reporters and limits access to trouble spots.

Assad blames the violence on armed gangs rather than reform-seekers and has vowed to crush further unrest.

In contrast, he has made overtures to try to ease growing outrage, including dismissing his cabinet, firing local officials and granting Syrian nationality to thousands of Kurds, a long-ostracized minority.

The gestures have failed to satisfy protesters who are demanding political freedoms and an end to the decades-old emergency laws that give the government a free hand to arrest people without charge.

Residents and activists in Baida and Ejnad said hundreds of men, young and old, were arrested Tuesday when security forces and pro-government gunmen attacked the villages in an attempt to crush growing dissent in the northeast.

The Syrian government countered that a group of “criminal killers” had attacked security forces and opened fire indiscriminately in the nearby port city of Baniyas and surrounding areas, killing a number of civilians.

— Associated Press

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