Anti-government protests have broken out across Syria, a day after President Bashar Al-Assad announced he would form committees to study lifting emergency laws and to investigate the deaths of demonstrators in prior rallies during the current unrest.
The emergency laws, in place since Hafez Al-Assad, the current president’s father, seized power in 1963, gave the state security forces extraordinary power in arresting and detaining people.
According to various media reports, thousands people filed onto the streets in several cities – including Deraa, Banias, Qamishli, Hassakeh, Homs and Latakia -- after Friday prayers and chanted slogans like “we want freedom and the blood of martyrs is not cheap,” despite a heavy security presence.
Al Jazeera reported that four demonstrators may have been killed after state security officers fired at people in Duma, a suburb of Damascus. Other reports claimed as many as ten died. BBC reported that an eyewitness said that security forces shot at people from rooftops.
BBC also quoted an eyewitness who said that Syrian military forces fired tear gas to disperse a crowd in Deraa, the focal point of the protests. Several people were reportedly wounded there as well.
Many activists are disappointed that Assad has not implemented more democratic reforms, or has moved too slowly on making any meaningful changes.
The rallies in the towns of Qamishli and Hassakeh, in the northeastern part of Syria, may beckon a new front in this ongoing saga.
The northeastern region of the country is dominated by the Kurdish minority, who represent no more than 10 percent of the population. Up to now, Kurds had not participated in anti-regime protests in any large degree.
BBC reported that protesters here shouted Neither Arabic, nor Kurdish, we want a national unity – perhaps in an effort to quell any suspicions that they are seeking a separate Kurdish state.
Several hundred people marched peacefully in the streets of Qamishli and Amuda … chanting 'we don't only want citizenship but freedom as well', Radif Mustafa, a Kurdish rights activist, told Agence France Presse.
In addition, BBC reported that some demonstrators are locked (or locked themselves) in a mosque in Damascus calls al-Rifai. They allegedly chanted The one who kills his people is a traitor and We are all Syrians.
We fear being arrested, we only want freedom for those who are detained. They [the Assad regime] have security and buses waiting for us outside, one demonstrator told the BBC.
Al Jazeera reported that security officer had earlier attacked protesters with batons in the mosque.
In addition, Al Jazeera stated that at least four people were killed and dozens wounded in the village of Sanamin in an attack by the army.
The state-controlled Syrian news agency admitted that anti-government protesters have demonstrated, but that there were conflict between them and state security.
There were no clashes between worshippers and security forces in these gatherings, the news agency said.