Thousands protest against Syrian regime

Daraa has become the focal point of anti-government protests

DAMASCUS - Thousands of protesters massed in the restive Syrian city of Daraa after weekly Muslim prayers on Friday as a global outcry widened over a deadly crackdown on anti-regime demonstrators.
Activists said up to 3,000 protesters marched to the centre of Daraa and more were on their way to the southern city, where security forces shot dead at least seven people last Friday.
"Between 2,500 and 3,000 people showed up at Al-Saraya area in the centre of the city, chanting slogans in favour of freedom and against the hostile regime," said the activist on condition of anonymity.
Security forces watched on as the protesters chanted "Death rather than humiliation!" he said, adding that other demonstrators were "going to come from nearby villages."
Hassan Berro, a rights activist in the northeastern city of Qamishli, said some 5,000 people emerged from a mosque there on Friday to demonstrate in solidarity with people of Daraa and Banias.
Banias, home to Sunnis, Alawite Muslims and Christians on the Mediterranean coast, is another key protest centre where government forces killed at least four people when they strafed a residential area with bullets on Sunday.
Daraa, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Damascus, has become the focal point of anti-government protests marred by deadly violence since the political unrest erupted in Syria a month ago.
"With our souls and our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you Daraa," the protesters shouted in Qamishli, waving Syrian flags.
Another 4,500 people also demonstrated against the regime in the three Kurdish neighbourhoods of Raas al-Arab, Amuda and Derbassiye, near Qamishli, Berro said.
In Homs, baton-wielding police waded into a crowd of around 4,000 people who had begun demonstrating after prayers and chanting "freedom, freedom," political activist Najatai Tayara said by telephone.
And about 50 protesters clashed with police in Barz, near Damascus, throwing stones at them before scuffles broke out, said rights activist Abdel Karim Rihawi.
The latest demonstrations came a day after Syria announced an amnesty for scores of prisoners detained since the protests erupted and as it unveiled a new cabinet to replace the one that quit last month.
Separately on Friday, the Syrian authorities freed a poet and a blogger who were arrested last month, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"The security forces released at dawn on Friday the young blogger Ahmad Hadifa who was arrested on March 23 because of his activities on Facebook," it said.
They also released Mahmud Mohammed Dibo, who was arrested on March 19 in the village of Annaze near Banias.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch accused Syrian security and intelligence services of torturing many of the hundreds of protesters detained since anti-government demonstrations began last month.
At the same time, the United States accused Iran of aiding Syria in its crackdown on protesters and the European Union shelved plans for an economic association deal with Damascus.
The Syrian foreign ministry denied the American accusation, while there has been no reaction from Iran.
Reliable casualty figures are impossible to obtain in Syria, but Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that at least 130 people had been killed up until then.
Officials have put the death toll at closer to 30 and blamed the violence on armed groups and foreigners seeking to divide the ethnically and religiously diverse country.