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Syria’s protest movement broadens
Published on 15 Apr. 2011 11:25 PM IST
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Syria’s growing protest movement has broadened as Aleppo, one of the country’s largest cities, had its first demonstrations against the government of President Bashar Assad.
In addition, a group of women from the coastal village of Bayda, where hundreds were detained this week, marched to demand the release of their husbands and sons.
At least 200 students protested at the University of Aleppo, witnesses and human rights advocates said, until security forces broke up the demonstration and arrested dozens of students.
A literature student, who asked not to be named because of the risk to his safety, said he was outside one of the buildings when a student nearby began shouting democracy slogans.
“It started with one person,” he said. “He was chanting ‘Peaceful! Peaceful! Freedom! Freedom!’ Security didn’t show up directly. It took them almost 10 minutes.”
Within that time, the student said, about 200 more students had joined in, chanting slogans calling for freedom and expressing support for protesters in the cities of Baniyas, where protests were violently suppressed this week, and Dara, where the protest movement began in mid-March after the arrest of a group of schoolboys for writing antigovernment graffiti.
An Arabic literature student who witnessed the demonstration on Wednesday said the students were shouting, “God, Syria, freedom, and that’s enough!” and “We sacrifice our souls and our blood for Dara and Baniyas!”
Analysts say the fact that protests have spread to the northern city of Aleppo is a critical step for the rapidly maturing protest movement. Aleppo, a manufacturing centre less than 65 kilometres from the border with Turkey, has been a traditional area of resistance to the Assad government.
The central city of Hama was the focus of a battle in 1982 between Hafez Assad, then the president, and the Muslim Brotherhood, during which at least 10,000 people were massacred. But Aleppo residents still had painful memories of the crackdowns of that era, said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Hafez Assad was succeeded by his son, Bashar, in 2000.
“In 1982 people were just rounded up and they disappeared, and this really drove up people’s anxiety levels,” Mr Tabler said in a telephone interview.
Aleppo residents, he said, had been watching closely the protests elsewhere in Syria, waiting for them to develop momentum before they joined in.
“You have a whole new group of Sunnis up and stomping,” he said. “The fact that Aleppo is mobilised hugely increases the scale of the problem that the Assad regime has on its hands. There are also large Kurdish populations and other minorities in Aleppo. It’s a real tinderbox.”
According to Razan Zeitouneh, a human rights advocate in Damascus, the capital, who has been in frequent touch with demonstrators in the coastal region, hundreds of women from Bayda marched along the main highway on Wednesday.

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