Syria’s Assad expected to speak to nation as unrest continues
DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian forces fired into the air Monday to disperse a pro-democracy demonstration in the southern flash point of Daraa, where reformers want to end the Assad family’s 40-year rule.
About 60 people have been killed in the crackdown in the city on the Jordanian border that poses the most serious challenge to President Bashar al-Assad. Residents said the security forces’ snipers were on rooftops.
Assad has yet to speak publicly on the protests, which have spread to the northern port of Latakia, Hama in central Syria and other towns, but officials say he will make a speech in the next two days amid speculation he could lift emergency rule.
Crowds converged on Daraa’s main square on Monday, chanting “We want dignity and freedom” and “No to emergency laws.”
Security forces fired sustained bursts into the air for several minutes in the direction of demonstrators, but the protesters returned once firing stopped, residents said. It was not immediately clear whether there were casualties.
Assad’s crackdown on what his officials say are armed groups has drawn international condemnation as protesters, emboldened by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, confront the security system of the tightly controlled country.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said events in Syria were “deeply concerning” but ruled out Libya-style intervention.
Amnesty International said Friday that at least 55 people had been killed in the Daraa area, based on “credible sources.” On Monday it cited unconfirmed reports saying 37 more people had been killed since then in protests in Damascus, Latakia, Daraa and elsewhere. Deraa, surrounded by poor agricultural areas, is a bastion of tribes belonging to Syria’s Sunni majority who resent the power and wealth amassed by elites from the Alawite minority to which the Assads belong.
People have also turned out on the streets of Hama, where in 1982 the forces of Hafez al-Assad killed thousands of people and razed much of the old quarter to crush an armed uprising by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
Bashar al-Assad, 45, now faces calls to lift emergency laws that have been used since 1963 to stifle political opposition and justify arbitrary arrest.