Syria: Funerals of 'dozens' of shot protesters spark violence

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The Independent Online

Thousands of mourners at a funeral for a Syrian killed in anti-government protests burned a ruling Baath party building and a police station yesterday as authorities freed 260 prisoners in an attempt to placate reformists.

Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, is facing the deepest crisis of his 11 years in power after security forces fired on protesters on Friday. Amnesty International puts the death toll in Deraa in the past week at 55 at least.

Mosques across Deraa announced the names of "martyrs" whose funerals would be held in the southern city, and hundreds gathered in the main square chanting for freedom. In nearby Tafas, residents said mourners in one of the funeral processions set fire to the Baath building and the police station.

Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in this most tightly controlled of Arab countries. But the unrest came to a head after police detained more than a dozen schoolchildren for writing graffiti inspired by slogans used by other pro-democracy demonstrators abroad.

There was a chorus of international condemnation of the shootings. But analysts said foreign nations were likely to tread carefully around Syria, which has a close alliance with Iran and links to the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas and the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.

There were also protests on Friday in Damascus and Hama, a northern city where in 1982 the forces of Mr Assad's father killed thousands of people and razed much of the old quarter to put down an armed uprising by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

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