Several thousand gathered in Deraa chant 'God, Syria, Freedom' and anti-corruption slogans; state TV reports of other; amateur videos show similar rallies in Homs, Baniyas
Latest Update: 03.18.11
Syrian security forces killed four demonstrators on Friday in the southern city of Deraa as they took part in a peaceful protest demanding political freedom and an end to corruption in Syria, a resident said.
Akram al-Jawabra, Houssam Abdelwali Ayash, Ayham al-Harri and Abu Aoun were among several thousands who where chanting "God, Syria, Freedom" and anti-corruption slogans, accusing the family of President Bashar Assad of corruption, when they were shot dead by security forces who were reinforced with troops flown in by helicopters, the resident said.
A video aired on Facebook showed what it described as demonstrators in Deraa shouting slogans earlier in the day against Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of President Assad, who owns several large businesses.
"Makhlouf you thief," shouted dozens of demonstrators marching in the streets.
State television said some "infiltrators" in the town of Deraa caused "chaos and riots" and smashed cars and some property before they were chased off by riot police. It said a similar demonstration in the coastal town of Banyas was dispersed without incident.
One amateur video showed what appeared to be Syrian government trucks spraying water on marchers. Two others purported to show several thousand men gathering in the cities of Homs and Baniyas.
Members of Syria's ruling hierarchy have indicated that they believe they are immune from the uprisings sweeping the Arab world, but small nonviolent protests this week have challenged their authority for the first time in decades.
On Wednesday plain-clothed security forces wielding batons dispersed 150 demonstrators in central Damascus who had gathered outside the Interior Ministry to demand the release of political prisoners.
Assad, who succeeded his father 11 years ago, is also head of the Baath party, which has been in power since 1963, banning opposition and imposing the emergency law still in force.
He said in an interview published in January that Syria's ruling hierarchy was "very closely linked to the beliefs of the people" and that there was no mass discontent against the state.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has said Syria's authorities were among the worst violators of human rights in 2010, jailing lawyers, torturing opponents and using violence to repress ethnic Kurds.
Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, sent troops into the city of Hama in 1982 to finish off the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Around 30,000 people were killed and much of the old quarter of the city was razed to the ground.