By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Syria is bracing for more likely violence today as families of pro-democracy protesters killed by security forces on April 22 prepare to hold funerals across the country.
Reuters quoted a Syrian rights activist as saying that “the funerals will turn into vehement protests, like past funerals.”
Syrian security forces reportedly shot dead nearly 90 protesters on April 22 in the bloodiest demonstrations yet against President Bashar al-Assad.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Syria’s “outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now.”
“Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria’s citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies,” Obama said in a statement.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a transparent, independent investigation of the killings of demonstrators.
He also told the Syrian government to “respect international human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as the freedom of press.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the “unacceptable killing of demonstrators by the Syrian security forces.”
European Parliament chief Jerzy Buzek also condemned the violence in Syria.
Scores Killed, And More Protests To Come
A Syrian group organizing the protests put the number killed at 88. Amnesty International put the death toll at 75.
Syria’s official news agency, SANA, gave a much lower casualty figure, saying 10 people died in clashes between demonstrators and passersby. SANA said government forces intervened, using only tear gas and water cannon.
State-run media also reportedly that “unidentified gunmen fired at the protesters in Homs and also attacked a police station.”
Western news agencies, however, quoted witnesses as saying security forces used live ammunition and tear gas against protesters as thousands of people took to streets in several towns and cities across Syria demanding change.
Demonstrations reportedly took place in the capital, Damascus, as well as in other cities, from the northeastern town of Qamishlil to Daraa in the south.
In the southern town of Jasim, a large crowd carrying banners chanted antigovernment slogans, including, “The people want to overthrow the regime.”
Reuters quoted a Syrian human rights campaigner in Damascus as saying today’s funerals would turn into vehement protests.
“When you have security services who are thugs, it is difficult to think that they will not shoot at the crowds. Another cycle of funerals and demonstrations is likely to follow,” the rights campaigner said.
Too Little, Too Late
The deadly April 22 crackdown came a day after Assad introduced concessions meant to quell the tide of discontent against his rule but which opponents derided as inadequate.
They included the end to a notorious state of emergency that has existed for nearly half a century and also conceded people’s right to seek permission to stage peaceful protests.
However, opponents signaled that this was no longer sufficient. Ahead of the April 22 gatherings, an umbrella group representing the protesters issued a statement demanding a “rapid reformulation of our national institutions.”
The statement — issued in the name of “Syrian local organizing committees” — demanded an end to torture, killings, arrests, and violence against demonstrators as well as three days of state-sanctioned mourning for those killed so far.
It also called for the release of all political prisoners and an independent inquiry into the death of protesters.
Most radical of all, it called for drastic constitutional reform that would limit presidents to two terms. Assad has been president for 11 years, having inherited the post on the death in 2000 of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for the previous 30 years.
At least 220 Syrians have been killed, according to human rights groups, in five weeks of demonstrations against what is considered one of the Middle East’s most autocratic states.