In Syria, Opposition Stages Massive Protests
There were massive opposition protests in towns and cities across Syria Friday, despite an ongoing government crackdown that left at least 19 protesters dead. Hundreds of thousands marched in cities like Deraa, Hama and Homs — all three have been major hubs of the protest movement. But there were also protests and violence in Damascus Friday. The Syrian capital has been comparatively quiet until now.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
NPR's Deborah Amos has been monitoring developments in Syria from neighboring Lebanon.
DEBORAH AMOS: It's a technical achievement for the protesters, says Wissam Tarif, who heads a Syrian human rights group.
WISSAM TARIF: It is a big deal. It shows that the protestors are getting more organized.
AMOS: How many Syrians would have watched live coverage?
TARIF: It's Friday, so every Syrian living inside the country or outside the country was watching that.
AMOS: Gauging viewership is difficult, but the protests appeared to be the largest yet, says Salmon Shaikh, the head of the Brookings Institution in the Middle East. He spoke from Washington.
SALMON SHAIKH: Numbers in specific towns and localities throughout Syria is increasing markedly, and I think that's what we saw today.
AMOS: As the Syrian uprising enters its fifth month, protests are now organized throughout the week, in some provincial towns nearly every day. On Wednesday, in the capital, a rally was organized by Syrian celebrities, including a soap opera star and well-known stage actors. Thirty were arrested. A tactic, says Shaikh, that only brings attention to the high-profile dissent.
SHAIKH: The crackdown on the protest on Wednesday against intellectuals and artists and others I believe was another own goal from the regime. Add to that, the attacks on the French and American embassies. There is a stupidity here in the action of the regime, which only fuels then further mistrust both inside Syria and outside.
AMOS: The Syrian government charges that mistrust goes both ways. Bouthaina Shaaban, a presidential advisor, says the international pressure has been too harsh. There have been arrests for those who damaged the U.S. and French embassies on Monday. And, she says, Syria has gotten no support for a government plan to move ahead on democratic reforms laid out in a national dialogue this week.
BOUTHAINA SHAABAN: We didn't hear one word from Western democracies to support dialogue, to support what we are doing, to say that is a good step. Go ahead, go ahead peacefully.
AMOS: Amer al Sadeq, an activist in Damascus points out that this was an unusually bloody day in the Damascus suburbs, where at least a dozen protesters died.
AMER AL SADEQ: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut.
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