Syrians chanting "No more fear!" held a defiant march yesterday after a deadly government crackdown failed to quash three days of massive protests in a southern city — an extraordinary outpouring in a country that brutally suppresses dissent.
Riot police armed with batons chased away the small group without incident, but traces of earlier, larger demonstrations were everywhere: burned-out and looted government buildings, a dozen torched vehicles, an office of the ruling Baath party with its windows knocked out. Protesters burned an office of the telecommunications company Syriatel, which is owned in part by the president's cousin.
The unrest in the city of Daraa started on Friday after security troops fired at protesters, killing five people. Over the next two days, two more people died and authorities sealed the city, allowing people out but not in as thousands of enraged protesters set fire to government buildings and massed in their thousands around the city.
Among the victims was 11-year-old Mundhir Masalmi, who died yesterday after suffering tear gas inhalation a day earlier, an activist told The Associated Press. The activist asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals.
An Associated Press team was allowed into Daraa, accompanied by two government minders who kept them away from protesters and would not allow photographs of the demonstrations. Army checkpoints circled the city and plainclothes officers were dispatched in key areas.
The military tightened security around the old part of the city that witnessed much of the violence. Soldiers were stopping cars trying to go to the old part, checking people's identity cards and searching the vehicles to make sure no one is carrying weapons. The minders prevented the AP team from going to the old quarter.
A lawyer told the AP that criminal records were destroyed as people ransacked and burned the two-story Palace of Justice, which houses a criminal court and a police station. Every room in the building was burned and more than 20 computers were stolen, lawyer Samir Kafri said.