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Syrian Forces Fire Bullets, Tear Gas at Protesters

April 22, 2011 at 6:15 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: It was the bloodiest day in more than a month of escalating protests in Syria. Local human rights activists said 88 civilians were killed.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration deplored the violence and called on the Syrian government to cease and desist.

It was billed as Great Friday. As this amateur video appears to show, tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets across Syria after Friday prayers, once again demanding reforms and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.

Freedom activists claim that these images are evidence of President Assad’s security forces firing tear gas and live ammunition into crowds as they have done in recent weeks. Protesters marched in the capital, Damascus and at least 10 other cities, including Daraa, Banias, Hama and Homs, despite winning a concession from the government.

This week the Cabinet, on orders from President Assad, agreed to lift the nearly 50-year-old state of emergency in a bid to defuse the unrest. It had been one of the protesters’ main demands but turned out to be not enough to prevent further marches.

In preparation for today’s rallies, security forces and plainclothes secret police officers were said to have been deployed in Homs and other cities. Earlier this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Syria’s harsh tactics against peaceful protests.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: It must stop the arbitrary arrests, detentions and torture of prisoners. And it must cease the violence and — and begin a serious political process, through concrete actions, to demonstrate its responsiveness to the legitimate issues that have been raised by the Syrian people seeking substantial and lasting reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Syria has long been one of the most repressive countries in the Middle East. And though activists say there have been some small concessions, they insist more reforms must be made soon.