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From Syria to Yemen, Uprisings Continue to Rattle Arab World

May 13, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Rebel uprisings continued to shake the Arab world on Friday as thousands of people took to the streets to demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down. Ray Suarez reports.
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JIM LEHRER: This was another bloody Friday in Syria. Six protesters were killed, even as the government said it wants a national dialogue. And in Libya, the drama surrounding Moammar Gadhafi took a new turn.

Ray Suarez has our coverage of the day’s events.

RAY SUAREZ: Across Syria, thousands of people again risked death to demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down in rallies captured on cell phone video. Activists said demonstrators in Damascus and Homs came under fire after Friday prayers.

Security forces also shot into crowds outside the city of Daraa and in the town of Mayadin. The deaths added to estimates of up to 850 protesters killed since the uprising there began. That’s already prompted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in neighboring Turkey, to denounce the killings.

And in Istanbul today protesters marched to the Syrian Consulate, where they burned photos of Assad.

RASHA YOUSEF, Turkey: The regime killed more than 1,000 people in Syria, and they blockade, like, a lot of cities. More — almost all the cities in Syria are blockaded.

RAY SUAREZ: There were also huge new protests today in Yemen, and troops there killed at least three more people in Ibb, a city south of Sanaa.

Embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh drew his own crowd of supporters in Sanaa. He accused his opponents of sabotage.

ALI ABDULLAH SALEH, president of Yemen (through translator): These are acts of destruction and vandalism. What we have built in 23 years has been destroyed in three months. These agents of destruction want to take control of seats of power, slaughter Yemeni people, and cut their heads.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi insisted he’s still very much in control.

The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, had said the Roman Catholic bishop in Tripoli now believes Gadhafi might be wounded and might have left the city. In an audio statement on state TV, Gadhafi didn’t directly address those claims, but he did taunt NATO.

MOAMMAR GADHAFI, Libyan leader (through translator): I tell the coward crusaders, I live in a place where you can’t get to me. I live in the hearts of millions.

RAY SUAREZ: The Libyan leader also condemned airstrikes this week on his compound in Tripoli.

Farther to the east, in rebel-held Benghazi, thousands of anti- Gadhafi Libyans insisted they would outlast the dictator.

MOHAMED KHALFAN, opposition supporter: (through translator): This is the third month of our struggle, but they feel like only three days. And for Gadhafi, it must feel like 30 years.

RAY SUAREZ: In Washington, a rebel delegation from Libya met with top White House officials.

Mahmoud Jibril, head of the rebel council, appealed Thursday for the U.S. to let the rebels use frozen Libyan assets.

MAHMOUD JIBRIL, Libyan Transitional National Council: I think the time is the crux of the matter, because having solved this problem in a matter of four or five weeks might be too late, you know? That’s why our finance minister said yesterday that we need this money yesterday, not today.

RAY SUAREZ: U.S. officials are working on the frozen assets, but, for now, President Obama has stopped short of recognizing the rebel council as Libya’s official government.

Libya’s neighbor to the east, Egypt, has already had its revolution. And, today, protesters turned their attention to new issues. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, thousands of people urged the new government to take a much stronger pro-Palestinian stand.

But, in Bahrain, the protests of February and March have been crushed. And the U.N. Human Rights Office voiced new concerns today about the arrests and torture of dissidents in Bahrain.