Syrian activists call for new wave of protests

AP News
Posted: Apr 05, 2011 1:01 PM
Syrian activists call for new wave of protests

Syrian activists called Tuesday for a new wave of demonstrations to honor more than 80 people killed in a crackdown on anti-government protests that erupted nearly three weeks ago.

Also Tuesday, the state-run news agency said gunmen killed two policemen in a suburb of the capital. Police killings are extremely rare in this tightly controlled country, although the government says several policemen and other security troops have been killed since the protests began March 18.

It was not clear if the shooting in Kfar Batna, about 9 miles (15 kilometers) from Damascus, was connected to the recent unrest. President Bashar Assad has blamed the recent bloodshed on gangs and a foreign conspiracy to sow chaos in Syria.

"The Syrian Revolution 2011" Facebook page called for protests across the country Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, calling it "Martyrs Week." By Tuesday, the page had more than 105,000 fans.

Assad has made a series of gestures toward reform in response to the growing cries for change, including sacking his Cabinet and promising to set up committees to look into reform. But protesters say the moves do not satisfy their demands for real change in one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.

On Tuesday, Syria suspended all soccer matches in an apparent bid to avoid gatherings that may turn into a rallying point for anti-government protests.

Taj el-Din Fares, deputy head of Syria's football federation, shrugged off the controversy and said the suspension was made to allow national, Olympic, youth and junior teams to "respond to other commitments."

In March 2004, deadly clashes between Syrian Kurds and security forces in the northeastern city of Qamishli began after a brawl between Kurdish and Arab supporters of rival soccer teams. The unrest later spread to the nearby cities of Hasaka and Aleppo. At least 25 people were killed and 100 injured in those clashes.

Also on Tuesday, a Syrian lawyer and human rights activist said authorities have released seven people arrested last month in different part of Syria.

Khalil Matouk said among those released are two Kurds detained on March 12 and two activists who were among 32 detained during a March 16 sit-in outside the Interior Ministry.

Only one prisoner from the group of 32, Kamal Sheikho, is still in custody.

Human rights groups and witnesses say authorities have arrested hundreds of people since March 18 as the government tries to cut off the demonstrations.