Added by Annika L. Krugel on April 5, 2011
Syrian security forces have been deployed as thousands of protesters shouting “We want freedom!” on Friday marched on the southern city of Daraa, now the epicentre of the protest movement.
Mass demonstrations to honour the more than 70 people who have been killed during two weeks of protest in Syria, one of the most authoritarian regimes of the Middle East, have been called for by activists, dubbing Friday a “Day of Martyrs”.
Eyewitnesses told the Associated Press that although security forces had been heavily deployed in and around Daraa, they had not been intervening in the protests. Security forces and soldiers however continue to keep a close eye on protests.
Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed the protests that have swept the country since March 18 on a foreign conspiracy and announced he will not implement the sweeping reforms called for.
The protests are reportedly presenting Assad, who inherited power some 11 years ago from his father, with the most serious challenge since becoming one of the most authoritarian leaders of the region.
Demonstrations have also been reported in Damascus,Qamishli, Amouda and Derbasiya, and the area surrounding Daraa.
In Damascus, at least 300 pro-government supporters came out with Syrian flags and pictures of Assad, chanting “Allah, Syria, Bashar!”