Syria rounds up hundreds of suspects in stadium

Syrian troops raided houses in a Sunni district of the besieged port of Latakia yesterday, residents said, arresting hundreds of people and taking them to a sports stadium after a four-day tank assault to crush protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Assad's forces have intensified their crackdown on a five-month uprising since the start of Ramadan on 1 August. Latakia is of particular significance to Mr Assad, as the 45-year-old president comes from a village to the southeast, where his father is buried. The Assad family, along with friends, control the city's port and its finances.

"Shelling and the sound of tank machine-guns subdued today. They are bussing hundreds to the Sports City from al-Raml. People who are picked up randomly from elsewhere in Latakia are also being take there," said one resident, referring to a complex that was the venue for the Mediterranean Games in the 1980s.

A foreign diplomat in Damascus said: "The reports about detention conditions and torture are increasingly alarming. Assad is backing himself more into a corner by using more and more violence and turning more Syrians against him."