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Published: Saturday, 7/23/2011

5 Syrians die as crowds defy crackdown

Hundreds of thousands flood streets in nationwide effort

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEIRUT — Hundreds of thousands of Syrians on Friday defied a violent government crackdown, insisting they will not be terrified into submission through bullets, mass arrests, and more than four months of attacks by security forces.

At least five people were killed, activists said.

The protests marked a clear attempt by the opposition to present a united front against the Assad family dynasty, the only regime Syrians have known for more than 40 years.

“One, one, one, the Syrian people are one!” protesters shouted in the capital, Damascus, in what has become a weekly ritual, with hundreds of thousands of people flooding the streets across the country demanding President Bashar Assad leave power.

The regime has banned nearly all foreign media and has restricted coverage, making it nearly impossible to independently verify events on the ground or casualty figures.

By some estimates, more than a million people were protesting Friday.

The Syrian conflict has become a test of wills between protesters emboldened by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and an entrenched family dynasty that refuses to relinquish power.

Although protests are growing, a strong alternative to Mr. Assad has yet to emerge, in part because dissidents have long been silenced, imprisoned, or exiled by the regime.

During Friday’s demonstrations, protesters insisted they were driven by the desire for liberty, and their slogans and banners emphasized national unity.

“No to sectarianism, yes to freedom,” read a banner in the small northern coastal town of Jableh, where hundreds of young people covered their heads with the Syrian flag.

“They are trying to turn the conflict into a sectarian one, and we insist that it is not,” another protester said by phone from Hama.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “appalled” by the continued violence in Syria, particularly in Homs.

“The regime has killed over 1,500 civilians and has blood on its hands,” Mr. Hague said, warning that Mr. Assad’s “regime’s brutal violence” risks inflaming internal Syrian tensions.

The death toll was relatively low compared with past weeks in part because of the massive security operation launched in the hours before the protests began.

On July 15, Syrian security forces killed 32 people, half of them in the capital, activists said.

This week, security forces deployed heavily in Damascus as early as dawn, pulling people from their homes and setting up checkpoints.

The measures succeeded in restricting the number of people who were able to venture out in the capital.



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