28 Dec 2011

Thousands in anti-Assad protest in Syrian city

3:04 pm on 28 December 2011

Tens of thousands of people in the Syrian city of Homs have rallied against President Bashar al-Assad, as Arab peace monitors made their first tour of the flashpoint city.

The army had withdrawn some tanks following battles that killed 34 people in 24 hours.

A human rights group says security forces fired tear gas at at least 70,000 protestors marching towards the city centre.

Arab League observers are trying to determine whether Mr Assad is keeping his promise to implement a peace plan to end his military crackdown on nine months of popular revolt.

Video posted on YouTube appears to show locals begging the monitors to visit the Babr Amr district, where clashes have been especially fierce.

The head of the monitoring team Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi is describing the first day in Homs as very good and says all sides were responsive to the monitors.

President Assad says he is fighting Islamist terrorism steered from abroad and has defied calls to make way for a reformist succession as has transpired in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia after popular uprisings toppled dictators this year.

Western powers and his neighbours Turkey and Jordan have called on him to step down, which would end a 41-year-old family dynasty.

The Syrian government has barred most foreign journalists from the country, making it hard to check events on the ground.