BEIRUT – Defying government guns, thousands of Syrian protesters poured down city streets and a main highway Friday to press demands for President Bashar Assad’s ouster. Security forces opened fire, killing at least 15 people, including two children, activists said.
“Our revolution is strong! Assad has lost legitimacy!” a YouTube video showed protesters chanting in Zabadani, a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital.
Syria’s streets have become the stage for a test of endurance between a 3-month-old pro-democracy movement, bloodied but resilient, and an iron-fisted but embattled regime. The latest round of protests and killings came as international pressure mounted on Assad.
“We will not stand by while the Syrian regime uses violent repression to silence its own people,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said after the European Union expanded sanctions – asset freezes and travel bans – to more members of the Syrian leadership.
The Syrian opposition says 1,400 people have been killed as the government has cracked down on a movement demanding an end to four decades of Assad family rule – a popular uprising renewed each Friday after weekly Muslim prayers.
In northern Syria, activists said at least 15,000 people staged a protest along the highway linking the country’s two main cities, Damascus and Aleppo. Thousands marched in Amouda and Qamishli in the northeast and in other provinces, said Syria-based human rights activist Mustafa Osso.
In Hama in central Syria, activists said, a massive protest took place in the city’s main Assi square. Online footage showed huge numbers of people gathered, many waving Syrian flags and crying for the regime’s downfall. A large purple banner was unfurled over a building, reading: “Long live free Syria, down with Bashar Assad.”
The video and other reports from inside Syria could not otherwise be confirmed, since the Damascus government has banned all but a few foreign journalists and restricted local media’s reporting.