16 Apr 2011

Syria protests sweep into capital

2:30 pm on 16 April 2011

Tens of thousands of protesters have attempted to march on the centre of the Syrian capital Damascus for the first time in a month of demonstrations against the president's rule.

More protests took place elsewhere across the country despite a crackdown and some political concessions announced by President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to quell spreading unrest.

In Damascus, security forces used batons and tear gas to prevent protesters marching from several suburbs from reaching the main Abbasside Square.

A witness who accompanied marchers from the suburb of Harasta said thousands chanted "the people want the overthrow of the regime" and tore down posters of Assad along the route, Reuters reports.

On Thursday, Mr Assad unveiled a new government, which has little power in the one-party state, and ordered the release of some detainees, a move one human rights lawyer said was a "drop in the ocean" compared to the thousands of political prisoners still held.

Activists reported protests in the city of Deir al-Zor near the Iraqi border, the coastal city of Banias and the southern city of Deraa, where the first demonstrations began against the detention of teenagers who had scrawled revolutionary graffiti on school walls. Protests also broke out in Latakia and Homs.