27 Mar 2011

Unrest spreads in Syria

6:04 pm on 27 March 2011

Reports that Syrian security forces have killed six people in two days of anti-government protests in the key port city of Latakia suggest the unrest there is still spreading.

There were reports of more than 20 deaths in protests on Saturday, mainly in the south, and medical officials say dozens have been killed over the past week around the town of Deraa alone.

Now, an exiled dissident who says he has been in touch with people in Syria says events are moving at an extremely fast pace and there have been deaths in Latakia.

A government source says security forces have not fired at protesters but that an armed group had taken over rooftops and fired on citizens and security forces, killing five people.

In Damascus and other cities, thousands of President Bashar al-Assad's supporters have been protesting and waving flags, to proclaim their allegiance to the government.

The authorities have freed 260 political detainees in a bid to appease increasingly angry protesters.

Officials have confirmed 27 deaths in clashes between demonstrators and security forces, in cities including Homs, Sanamen, Daraa and Latakia since the rallies began 12 days ago.

Activists have put the death toll at more than 126, with upwards of 100 killed last Thursday alone in a bloody crackdown on protests in Daraa, the southern tribal town that has become the symbol of the protests.

In Tafas, south of the capital, angry residents torched a police station and the local headquarters of the Baath party, which has ruled Syria single-handedly for nearly half a century.

The Assad government has announced a string of reforms to appease demonstrators, including the possibility of ending an emergency law in place since 1963.

But protesters have vowed to keep taking to the streets until their demands for more freedom are met.