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Syrian Protesters Defiant in Face of Escalating Security Crackdown

April 26, 2011 at 5:56 PM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: In Syria, the government crackdown on protesters intensified, with security forces cutting water and electricity in the city of Daraa for a second day. There were also reports of mass arrests throughout the country.

At the same time, diplomatic discussions continued about taking steps against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

A warning: It contains some disturbing images.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Gunfire across Daraa, the cradle of Syria’s uprising, where so many protesters have been killed in the last few weeks, that sanctions against the regime are now being drafted by Western diplomats.

These demonstrators in Daraa filmed their own standoff with a tank at the end of the street, and then they posted it on the Internet.

“We are not frightened. The army is with us,” they shouted. Seconds later, all such hope was cruelly dashed.

(GUNFIRE)

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The army opened fire. The protesters ran for their lives. Up to 25 were reported killed in Daraa yesterday, and international calls for restraint have fallen on deaf ears.

This afternoon, the foreign secretary cautiously upped the ante, hinting at E.U. sanctions without being specific.

WILLIAM HAGUE, British foreign secretary: This violent repression must stop. President Assad should order his authorities to show restraint and to respond to the legitimate demands of his people with immediate and genuine reform, not with brutal repression.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Today, these appalling pictures emerged. They apparently show the crackdown in Daraa on Friday, which left at least 70 dead. A referral to the International Criminal Court now seems likely, while the Americans are weighing targeted sanctions against Syrian officials, including the president’s brother Maher, a military commander.

The leaders of France and Italy today called the situation unacceptable. And a U.N. resolution is in the works, calling for an independent investigation. With so many tanks and snipers now in Daraa that residents say they dare not recover dead bodies from the streets.

JEFFREY BROWN: Earlier this evening, I talked by phone with a human rights lawyer and activist in Damascus, Razan Zaitouneh.

Thank you for joining us.

You’re in the capital, Damascus. What’s the situation there?

RAZAN ZAITOUNEH, activist: Damascus is right — quiet. There is a lot of security everywhere, especially at the entrance of the capital.

There’s checkpoints. And the main crises are in the countryside of Damascus, around Damascus. All these areas are still surrounded, checkpoints entering and getting out with the I.D. Duma is still all — all kind of connection is still cut off. About more than 200 people got arrested only in Duma. Hundreds got arrested around the country. And the there is started the crisis in Duma and Muadamiyah because are — because they have been surrounded for several days.

JEFFREY BROWN: And how are the protesters holding up amid the crackdown by the government?

RAZAN ZAITOUNEH: Actually, during — the crackdown was continuing yesterday in several cities and killing people was continuing in Daraa, and Duma was under siege. People got to the streets and protest — to protest in several cities yesterday evening.

Today, also, now there is a protest in Al-Qamishli, in Zabadani, in Latakia, in Banias. So, it seems clear that people are insisting to go on, to continue and that they are not afraid anymore. This — this crackdown might now affect the cities which the military and security are inside, the cities like Duma and Muadamiyah.

It’s impossible for people now to go to sleep because nobody is — even can walk in the street. But in other cities, people are continuing and going on.

JEFFREY BROWN: And how are protesters communicating? Are people able to reach one another?

RAZAN ZAITOUNEH: We try all methods we have. We use Internet. We use phone when we can. We get to meet face to face when we can. We use everything we can to keep the movement on, to keep the people aware of what’s going on in the other cities, because this is very important thing to encourage the people around the country that they are not alone and they are — and other cities are continuing moving and going on.

JEFFREY BROWN: What’s driving the protests now? What’s the goal at this point?

RAZAN ZAITOUNEH: Their freedom, democratic regime, regime where we have our dignity and we have our freedom. It’s enough. For more than 40 years, we live without freedom and without any kind of democracy.

Besides that, the killing which was practiced by the authority against its own people during last month make people believe that it’s impossible for this regime to change it from inside, to try to make any real change, any real reforms which led at the end to democratic regime.

So, they are continuing until they get their complete freedom.

JEFFREY BROWN: Razan Zaitouneh in Damascus, thank you so much for talking to us.

RAZAN ZAITOUNEH: Thank you. Bye-bye.