Thousands demonstrate in Syria as violence rages


Tens of thousands of Syrians demanding an end to the regime took to the streets on Friday under fire from government forces, who pressed their campaign to pound rebel cities into submission, activists said.
The violence raged a day after 77 people were killed and international envoy Kofi Annan spoke of “alarming” casualties despite the regime accepting an April 10 deadline to withdraw forces from protest hubs. On its Facebook page, the Syrian Revolution 2011 activist group had urged Syrians to demonstrate in favour of arming anti-regime rebels. The Local Coordination Committees group said security forces shot at demonstrators in Douma north of Damascus, in the central city of Hama and in Idlib in the northwest. Demonstrations were also reported in southern Daraa province, cradle of the revolt, the LCC said.
Others were staged at Qamishli in the northern Kurdish region and at Deir Ezzor in the east, as well as in Idlib province, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Britain-baseed Observatory also reported fierce battles in the villages of Al-Tiba, Al-Qabu and Shniyeh in central Homs province. It said the clashes erupted after loyalist militias opened fire on seven women, killing two and wounding four.
So far, activists have reported seven people killed nationwide on Friday. The Observatory said regime forces were pounding districts of Homs city and Rastan to the north, with searches under way in Damascus suburbs after a night of clashes with deserters in which three soldiers were killed. On Thursday, the UN Security Council, including Russia and China, joined Annan in stepping up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to implement a six-point peace plan. It called on the “Syrian government to implement urgently and visibly its commitments” made to Annan to take the steps toward a cessation of hostilities, a statement said. It called for Syria to start a two-hour daily pause in hostilities and to allow immediate humanitarian access. The council also said that, depending on Annan’s progress reports, it will “consider further steps as appropriate.”
Damascus has agreed to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from cities by next Tuesday. Annan said that if this happens he will call for a complete halt to hostilities by “0600 hours Damascus time on Thursday April 12.” But Syria has said the number of what it calls terrorist acts has risen since the deal with reached with Annan.