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Syria unrest: Two people shot dead in Latakia protest
Damascus, Mar 27 (Agencies):
Published on 27 Mar. 2011 11:57 PM IST
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Two people have been killed in the Syrian city of Latakia during anti-government protests, officials say.
Officials said the two were killed by snipers but activists said security forces opened fire on protesters.
In the last week, dozens of people have been killed in a number of Syrian cities in protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
The authorities have blamed the violence on armed gangs trying to destabilise the country.
Offices of the ruling Baath party were burned down in the coastal town of Latakia and the southern town of Tafas, witnesses said, while hundreds of people renewed demonstrations in Deraa.
The US and the UN earlier condemned the Syrian government following reports that troops fired on peaceful protesters on Friday.
However, adviser to President Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, has told the BBC it was not security forces that had shot protesters but “armed groups” firing on civilians indiscriminately.
She blamed a Sunni Muslim cleric in Doha, Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi, for inciting the violence in Latakia, saying it had been trouble free before he spoke on Friday.
Syrian officials say 27 people, including 20 protesters, have been killed in clashes with security forces in a number of cities since anti-government demonstrations began over a week ago.
Activists say many more people have been killed, but there is no independent confirmation.
The protests have presented President Assad with his biggest challenge in his 11 years of rule.
The biggest protests on Saturday were in Tafas, 18km (11 miles) north of the city of Deraa, which is close to the Jordan border and which has become the centre of the challenge to the 11-year rule of President Assad.
Thousands took to the streets in Tafas to bury three protesters who witnesses said had been killed by security forces on Friday.
The witnesses said the protesters chanted anti-government slogans and burned the Baath HQ and a police station.
In Deraa on Saturday, hundreds of protesters climbed on to the rubble of a statue of ex-President Hafez al-Assad that was torn down on Friday and resumed anti-government chants.
Some were holding cardboard signs reading “the people want the downfall of the regime”, witnesses said.
Unverified amateur footage purportedly showing protesters in Deraa on Friday tearing down a statue
Presidential adviser Ms Shaaban said political reform had been under discussion in Syria for some time and that the authorities intended to put constitutional and party changes before the people in a referendum as soon as possible.
Earlier, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 200 inmates, mostly Islamists, were freed from Damascus’ Saidnaya prison.
However, reports about the total number involved differ, with another human rights activist being quoted by Reuters as saying that 70 political prisoners were freed.
The Syrian government has so far made no official comment on the issue but Ms Shaaban said she would be surprised if her country had hundreds of such detainees.

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