Syrian refugees who fled the fighting on June 13. Photo by Mustafa Ozer /AFP/Getty Images
Syria saw some of its largest protests yet Friday in an anti-government movement that has gripped the country since March. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in various cities and at least 12 people reportedly were killed in clashes with security forces.
According to human rights groups, three people were killed in the central city of Homs, two in the capital Damascus and seven others elsewhere in the country. Restrictions on foreign journalists in the country make it difficult to verify information.
“It is absolutely clear that the Syrian government is running out of time,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a democracy conference Friday.
“They are either going to allow a serious political process that will include peaceful protest to take place throughout Syria and engage in a productive dialogue with members of the opposition and civil society, or they are going to continue to see increasingly organized resistance,” she said.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has led the country since 2000, taking over after the death of his father Hafez, who ruled the nation for 29 years.
Assad has made certain concessions, such as lifting emergency law and recently allowing meetings of some opposition figures, but demonstrators are still demanding he leave office.
At least 10,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey to escape the fighting, many taking up temporary residence in tent cities.
A national dialogue in Bahrain aimed at quelling a pro-democracy uprising starts Saturday, but some are skeptical it will answer the protesters’ demands.
The Bahraini government, led by the al-Khalifa family, has offered some concessions, including setting up a panel to investigate the deaths and arrests of protesters and offering to withdraw some Saudi Arabian troops who have been helping with security.
But opposition members say the forum includes many people within the government, so they are doubtful it will produce real reforms.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he welcomed the investigation into the government’s reaction to the protests, but said the commission must be independent.
The mainly Shiite population is seeking more access to resources and opportunities in the Sunni minority-led state.
Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi said Friday in an audio message aired at a pro-government rally in the capital Tripoli that unless NATO stops its air campaign against his forces, he will retaliate in kind.
Unless the attacks stop, “we can decide to treat you in a similar way,” he warned, according to the Associated Press. “If we decide, we can also move it (the fight) to Europe.”
Gadhafi, who came to power in a military coup in 1969, has been fighting a rebellion for five months. The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Gadhafi and two of his relatives for “crimes against humanity”. In March, NATO forces began bombing Libya’s air forces and ammunition sites.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the rebels said Thursday that they are seeking weapons and ammunition from France. The French government did not confirm the claim.
The Washington Post reports on how volunteers, including many women, are being trained to defend the Gadhafi government because conventional forces are busy battling rebels to the east and west.
Moroccans voted Friday on a set of constitutional changes, including having the majority in Parliament choose a prime minister and creating an independent judiciary.
Some have criticized the changes as not going far enough, saying a king would still remain in control of the North African country of 32 million, and they have called for a boycott of the vote.
Early in the day, news reports estimated the turnout at between 25 percent and 35 percent. The Interior Ministry said as of 4 p.m. local time, turnout had reached nearly 50 percent.
King Mohammed VI, who succeeded his father in 1999, is considered a modernizer and Morocco is a U.S. ally. But protests in the Muslim kingdom, which were generally more subdued than in other countries in the region, still arose against high food prices and perceived government corruption.
Updated July 2: The constitutional changes passed with 98 percent of the vote.
Protests seeking the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh flared again in Yemen after Friday prayers. Saleh is still recovering in Saudi Arabia from injuries sustained in a June 3 attack on his compound in Sanaa.
Tens of thousands of people participated in demonstrations for and against Saleh, who has promised several times to step down but never done so. Opposition spokesman Mohammed Qahtan said Saleh must relinquish power before a dialogue can take place.
In Egypt, where mass protests eventually led to President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall, thousands of demonstrators returned to Tahrir Square on Friday to demand faster change and justice for those killed during the transition.