Military in Syria shoot dead 32 as largest ever protests held
Syria's opposition movement staged its largest protests yet in the four-month uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad yesterday, as security forces opened fire killing at least 32 people.
Syrian security forces killed 32 civilians, including 23 in the capital Damascus, in a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations yesterday, the Local Coordination Committees grassroots activists' group said.
It was the highest death toll in central neighbourhoods of Damascus since the uprising against Mr Bashar al-Assad's autocratic rule erupted four months ago.
The killings prompted the opposition to cancel a "National Salvation" conference that was due in the Qaboun neighbourhood of Damascus today after security forces killed 14 protesters in front of the hall where the conference was scheduled to take place, opposition leader Walid al-Bunni said.
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million people altogether according to some activists, took to the streets in just two cities, Hama and Deir al-Zour.
The two cities have been subject to attack by government troops seeking to restore order in the past fortnight, with dozens of people killed, suggesting the use of force is losing its deterrent effect.
The security forces opened fire on protests in several suburbs of the capital, Damascus, where demonstrations since the start of the uprising have been sparser until now.
Opposition groups are holding linked meetings in Istanbul and Damascus today, rejecting government attempts to oversee "inclusive" negotiations.
Today's conferences will "draw up a road map that will bring the country out of despotism towards democracy", according to a statement.
The protests followed a familiar pattern but, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the uprising's main spokesmen, the Local Coordinating Committee, were on a bigger scale than anything seen before.
Crowds chanted "We don't love you Bashar!" and "Leave Bashar!" before security forces and pro-regime gunmen opened fire with bullets and tear gas.
In keeping with attempts to give each week's protests a "theme", yesterday's demonstrations were described as a "day of freedom for prisoners".
Activists claim 15,000 people are still being detained by the government, and that at least 1,500 have been killed. The government says several hundred members of the security forces have also been killed.
Nevertheless, its pleas for understanding have fallen on deaf ears abroad, except in neighbouring Iran.
While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed a shift in US policy and stated that in its view Mr Assad had lost legitimacy "in the eyes of his people", Iran was reported to have approved a massive aid package to Damascus.
The government blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, saying religious extremists are behind it.
Mr al-Assad has acknowledged the need for reforms, but the opposition has been unwilling to negotiate while security forces fire on protesters. (© Daily Telegraph, London)