The Great Friday protests as they were called have reportedly resulted in at least 75 deaths. Assad just recently announced a number of reforms including the lifting of the emergency law in effect for decades. But security forces continue to use lethal force to repress demonstrations.
The casualty numbers come from Amnesty International. There were protests in many cities across the country as shown on the accompanying map. Fifteen deaths are reported from a town close to Daraa which in the past has seen many deadly demonstrations.
Many demonstrators who were marching peacefully were suprised when security forces began to use live ammunition. However Assad warned that further demonstrations would be considered an insurrection and force used to suppress them.
A demonstrator noted: "Demonstrators were going with olive branches, it was peaceful" until they were "surprised by live ammunition from some security forces in one of the flats of the street" The demonstrations today have been the largest to date against Assad.
In Damascus there was a huge security presnece. The government wants to make sure that protests do not reach the capital.
Witnesses to the demonstrations have told an Al Jazeera reporter that the injured were being refused treatment at hospitals or were too frightened to seek any treatment. Security forces claim that they would fire on protesters only if fired upon first but in some cases this order seems not to have been observed. State television has blamed foreign media for the protests.
Among other demands activists want the Baath Party monopoly to be abolished a multi party democratic system put in place. Local Coordination Committees issued a statement saying:"All prisoners of conscience must be freed. The existing security apparatus has to be dismantled and replaced by one with specific jurisdiction and which operates according to law," the joint statement said.
Assad's reforms have done nothing to defuse the crisis it would seem. There is now a right to protest but only with a permit and these protests did not have permits. One representative claimed they did not have time to request the permits.
More than 220 protesters have been killed since protests erupted on March 18 in Daraa, according to human rights campaigners. Although Assad lifted the emergency law it was replaced by anti-terror legislation that gives many of the same powers.
Authorities claim that there are armed groups who infiltrate demonstrations and provoke violence. They fire on civilians it is claimed.
The U.S. urged Syria to stop the violence..However, much criticism is muted even though Syria is certainly no friend of the U.S. or Israel with which it is still technically at war. Nevertheless the west fears the uncertainty involved in the fall of the Assad regime. The know what to expect from Assad or as the saying goes better to deal with the devil you know.