Syrian forces kill over 75 in 'Good Friday massacre'
Published 23/04/2011 | 05:00
Syria's security forces stood accused last night of carrying out a "Good Friday massacre" of more than 75 protesters on one of the bloodiest days yet in the five-week uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Among the dead were a 70-year-old man and two boys aged seven and 10, Amnesty International said.
In the southern town of Izraa, a man ran carrying the body of a young boy, whose hair was matted with blood from a gaping wound on his head, as another child wept and shouted, "My brother!"
In other towns, protesters scattered for cover from sniper bullets, then dragged corpses through the streets.
The rallies, most marching out from mosques after yesterday's noon Muslim prayers, erupted in towns and cities stretching along the breadth of the country.
A day earlier, Mr Assad had responded to growing popular pressure by lifting Syria's draconian 1962 emergency laws. However, the president's apparently conciliatory gesture failed to signal a softening of the regime's determination to crush dissent.
Across the country, protesters spilling out of mosques were met with live ammunition, sometimes within minutes of Friday prayers ending.
In Damascus, the capital, and towns and cities to the east, west and south, attempts to challenge the regime met the same response. By dusk, there were fatalities reported from nine separate demonstrations. Up to 54 people were killed, according to a tally of reports by Syrian activists, witnesses and doctors.
Yesterday's protests were billed as a major showdown between Mr Assad and his opponents. The president presented his decision to lift Syria's state of emergency as a final offer to the demonstrators.
It was a concession, he said, that removed the last pretext for legitimate protest -- anyone who took to the streets after his gesture was a bandit or a rebel. Yet tens of thousands were prepared to defy the president.
In stark contrast to the first protests last month, when slogans were directed not at the president but at his policies, those who took to the streets yesterday tore down posters of Mr Assad and statues of his father Hafez, who ruled Syria until his death in 2000.
Others demanded the resignation of the "Doctor", as Mr Assad, a London-trained ophthalmologist, is known, chanting: "Go away Doctor! We will trample on you and your murderous regime."
In Azra, a town in the southern province of Deraa, 3,000 protesters marching on the main square came under sustained fire.
The scene was repeated in suburbs of Damascus and nearby towns, where loyalist gunmen joined the police in confronting the protesters.
A four-year-old girl was reportedly among the victims, shot in the head by a sniper, according to opposition activists. "What today proves beyond question is that Syria is the most repressive regime in the Middle East and Assad is the worst dictator," one activist said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)