President Bashar al-Assad deployed the army in Latakia today. Until now secret police and special forces have been primarily responsible for quelling the protests this week and killing a large number of protesters, at least 61 according to Human Rights Watch. Exact numbers have been difficult to obtain because of the news blackout imposed in the country, but SANA is reporting 12 killed yesterday in Latakia. Unofficial reports are much higher, but the international news media is being prevented from reporting.
Reuters is reporting two television journalists missing in Syria since Saturday, after “On Friday, Syrian authorities withdrew the accreditation of Reuters text correspondent Khaled Yacoub Oweis, saying he had filed “unprofessional and false” coverage of events in Syria.” Al Jazeera had their Sana’a bureau raided on March 22 after an earlier expulsion of two Al-Jazeera correspondents and six other international journalists.
Relative calm is being reported today despite a sit in at the Omari Mosque in Deraa where at least six people were killed on the 23rd. Government officials announced Assad was to make a televised address today, but he has not appeared.
On Saturday, 260 political prisoners were released by the government, and they are now joined by political activist Diana Jawabra, and 15 others who were charged with taking part in a silent protest demanding the release of schoolchildren arrested for scrawling graffiti. The government has also committed to “studying” an end to emergency law and proposing draft laws that would grant greater freedoms in the media and the formation of political parties.
Protesters are not at all appeased by these or promises of other reforms, very familiar to them after years of promises and no results from Assad. They are demanding an end to the emergency law, a drastic reduction of domestic security powers, freedom for all political prisoners and a disclosure of the fate of tens of thousands of protesters who disappeared in the 1980’s. Some of the imprisoned human rights defenders are profiled on the Haitham Maleh Foundation website.
Syrian state media is calling the protesters “armed troops, backed by foreigners, attempting to incite sectarian violence” a description familiar to any who have watched protests in any other countries in the region.
Damascus and other cities have also seen demonstrations in support of Assad this week.
Previous WL Central coverage on Syria.