More killed as Syria buries protesters
DAMASCUS - Funerals were held Sunday in Syria for victims of a fierce government crackdown on anti-regime protesters that has left some 50 people dead in the last two days, five of them killed during a funeral procession, activists said.
In the central city of Homs, one of the epicentres of the nine-week uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, hundreds of protesters took to the streets chanting "down with the regime", an activist said.
A massive demonstration was also reported in Saqba, a suburb of Damascus, where some 10,000 people turned out for the burial of a 25-year-old killed the previous day.
Those killed on Saturday included at least five gunned down in Homs as they marched in the funeral procession of several people who were among 44 killed by security forces during protests that swept the country on Friday.
The state news agency SANA said a police officer was shot to death Saturday by an "armed terrorist gang" in Saqba.
SANA said that 32 police officers had been killed and 547 wounded since the unrest broke out in Syria in mid-March. It did not provide a toll for civilian casualties.
At least 900 people have been killed and thousands more have been arrested since the pro-democracy protests broke out on March 15, according to rights groups.
Many of those arrested and later released reported being tortured, activists say.
Foreign media are not allowed to travel in the country to report on the unrest, making it difficult to verify information.
The government has underplayed the scope of the unrest and repeatedly claims the crisis is at an end.
Although the capital Damascus has been largely spared from the unrest until now, a number of demonstrations were held in and around the city in the last two days but they were quickly dispersed by security forces.
Should the protests gain a foothold in Damascus and Aleppo, the country's second major power center, that would mark a major setback for the regime.
The government insists that the unrest sweeping the country is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.
Activists say it is clear the regime is quickly losing credibility on the inside.
"Their ferocious crackdown has failed because the wall of fear has come crumbling down despite the massive arrests and torture," said an activist reached by telephone.
"And no one is buying their talk of national dialogue anymore because the government is not addressing the crux of the issue," he added. "The streets are seething with anger because people don't know where we are headed.
"And the killings are further feeding this anger and feelings of rancour."
The violence on Friday and Saturday came as the international community ratcheted up the pressure on Assad, with US President Barack Obama bluntly telling him to lead a transition or "get out."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the weekend also urged Assad to act before it is too late.
"Time is running out," he warned.
"If they stick to the method of using the security forces to suppress the protests without introducing concrete reforms... there could be really negative consequences that would sadden us all," Davutoglu said.
Washington and the European Union, initially hesitant to criticize Assad's regime, have slapped punitive sanctions on Syria with the United States targeting the president himself as well as top aides.
The minority Alawite-controlled regime, however, has remained defiant while accusing Washington of meddling in its internal affairs and of incitement.