In Syria, Thousands Protest Regime

May 13, 2011
Originally published on May 13, 2011 7:01 pm



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour with news out of Syria. Thousands of protesters across that country took to the streets today for the ninth Friday in a row, this despite one of the most brutal crackdowns against an uprising anywhere in the Arab world. In a moment, we'll hear from a reporter who recently slipped into Syria posing as a tourist and was detained by government security forces there.

But first, to today's protests. NPR's Kelly McEvers reports from nearby Beirut that fewer people were hurt today than on Fridays past, but at least six were killed and several more injured.

KELLY McEVERS: The day began with a promise from an adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The president has ordered security forces not to shoot at protesters.

Syrian journalist Talib Ibrahim, who regularly speaks for the regime, explained the promise to Al-Jazeera.

Mr. TALIB IBRAHIM (Journalist): (Foreign language spoken)

McEVERS: The military has been successful at breaking up the armed gangs behind these protests, Ibrahim says, so now there is no reason to shoot.

But then, activists began sharing amateur videos like this one, reportedly from a district of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of gunfire)

McEVERS: Protesters flee the shots, apparently unharmed. In Syria's third largest city, Homs, thousands of protesters defied a major crackdown that began last weekend. Tanks and soldiers had surrounded the city and cut off electricity and phones.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

McEVERS: We don't love you, we don't love you, the protesters shout. Leave us alone, you and your party.

Human rights activists say two protesters in Homs were later shot and killed.

The regime announced it would begin a national dialogue with opposition leaders in the coming days. But Wissam Tarif, who heads a Middle Eastern human rights organization, says if the regime is serious about dialogue, it should first...

Mr. WISSAM TARIF (Founder, INSAN): Tell the army, tell the security forces: stop raiding homes. There are thousands, thousands of young people who are not being able to sleep in their homes, afraid of night raids, release prisoners of conscience, then you call for a dialogue. Then, it is understandable, but so far it's just talk. It's nothing solid, nothing serious.

McEVERS: With the protesters unwilling to talk to the government, analysts here say the cycle of protests and crackdown is likely to continue for some time.

Paul Salem heads the Carnegie Middle East Center here in Beirut. He says the one group that could disrupt this cycle are the Syrians he calls the silent middle.

Mr. PAUL SALEM (Director, Carnegie Middle East Center): That's clearly, you know, involved, clearly concerned, probably very unhappy but has not moved.

McEVERS: At this point, he says, the silent middle is probably willing to let the regime stay in power if it enacts real and significant reforms, that in exchange for peace and stability.

Mr. SALEM: But if we get no reforms, continued bloodshed, I don't think it's going to hold.

McEVERS: Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.