Middle East

Protests held in several Syrian cities: witnesses

DAMASCUS: Pro-democracy protests erupted in several Syrian towns and villages on Friday after the main weekly Muslim prayers, with demonstrators holding olive branches and calling for more freedom in defiance of a brutal crackdown, witnesses said.

In Ain Arab, a mainly Kurdish region near the northern city of Aleppo, hundreds took to the streets chanting "no to violence, yes to dialogue" and "we are not Islamists or Salafists, we want freedom,", said Radif Mustapha, head of a Kurdish human rights group who was reached by telephone.

"No one is calling for the downfall of the regime," he said, as the demonstrators could be overheard shouting "azadi, azadi" or "freedom" in Kurdish.

In the coastal city of Banias, thousands of men, women and children took to the streets, with many of the men bare-chested to show proof they were unarmed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The demonstrators called for freedom and urged the regime to lift its siege on several Syrian cities where protests have taken place in the last two months, the rights group said.

Hassan Berro, an activist, told AFP that protests were also taking place in several towns and villages in the northeast of the country including Qamishli, Amuda and Derbasiyeh.

He and the others said security forces had not intervened to stop the protests so far.

Their accounts could not be independently verified as foreign journalists are prevented from traveling in the country to report on the unprecedented protests.

Friday's demonstrations were taking place amid mounting pressure by the international community for the Syrian government to stop its crackdown on pro-democracy protests.





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