More protesters killed despite Assad's pledges

Opposition claims Ba'athists staged rally in Homs by bringing in people from outside of the city

Syria's security forces yesterday opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least seven people just a day after President al-Assad pledged to engage in a "national dialogue" to safeguard the country's now precarious future.

This new round of civilian bloodshed, the latest in Syria's 12-week insurrection, came as the Ba'athist regime attempted to shore up its tottering government by rallying its own supporters onto the streets. Tens of thousands of people, many waving Syrian flags and chanting pro-government slogans, gathered in city squares across the country.

A witness said that around 10,000 regime supporters arrived in the central Syrian city of Homs yesterday. "Nobody knows them, they are strangers to the city, they were asking for directions," the witness told the Associated Press news agency.

Another activist in Homs told The Independent there had been clashes between the pro and anti-government demonstrators. "I tried to get into the city centre today but I couldn't," said the man. "Some of the roads are blocked by anti-government people and others are blocked by pro-government people, including the police force."

During the stand-off, a number of civilians were killed by bursts of machine-gun fire. There were also reports that the security services were arresting injured demonstrators.

Despite the large pro-government demonstrations, many activists said the rallies bore the familiar hallmarks of an organised Ba'athist protest. Radwan Ziadeh, a US-based human-rights activist, said: "It's orchestrated by the Syrian regime to show that Bashar al-Assad still has some popularity in Syria and some people support him. But it's a failed strategy."

The day of violence, in which protesters were also shot dead in Hama and the eastern desert city of Deir al-Zour, came as the Syrian military continued to fan out across north of the country. Troops came to within a mile of the Turkish border where thousands of refugees are camped out on the Syrian side.

The UN's refugee agency's spokesman, Adrian Edwards, said that UN officials who had visited north-west Syria found a wasteland of ghost villages and empty farm fields. It was evidence of a "significant displacement" of people, he added. The Syrian army's sweep also extended to Aleppo, the country's second city and an area which has so far escaped serious unrest.

In a sign the regime is getting jittery about the prospects of maintaining Aleppo's relative sense of calm, a number of students were arrested at the university following a demonstration yesterday. There were also reports army roadblocks around the city had been increased.

Mohammed Karkouti, a senior member of opposition exile group the Syrian Conference for Change, said: "It's a very, very critical situation. I think the revolution is beyond Bashar al-Assad and the regime. The only right thing he said in his speech on Monday was that we're not going back. He is right, but it won't be good for the regime."

Human-rights groups say more than 1,400 civilians have been killed by troops and security forces since the start of the uprising, which began in the southern city of Daraa after 15 schoolboys were arrested for spraying anti-regime graffiti.

On Monday, President al-Assad used a televised addressed to mix vague promises of reform with warnings about "saboteurs" and murky conspiracies. The speech, coupled with yesterday's display of pro-government support, led some analysts to suggest the president would lead his country to the precipice in order to defend his family's 40-year grip on power.

International pressure is still building. Although Russia has said it opposes any UN Security Council resolutions condemning the regime, Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin yesterday said there was a "need to apply pressure" on any country where "massive unrest" was happening.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links