May 22, 2011 in Nation/World

Syrian forces unrelenting, raising death toll past 900

Bassem Mroue Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Syrian women shout slogans calling on Syria’s President Bashar Assad to step down, in front of the United Nations headquarters in Amman, Jordan, on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

Around the region

• Libya: NATO widened its campaign to weaken Moammar Gadhafi’s regime with airstrikes on desert command centers and sea patrols to intercept ships, the military alliance says, amid signs of growing public anger over fuel shortages in government-held territory.

 In the coastal town of Zawiya, crowds apparently outraged by dwindling fuel supplies tried to stab foreign reporters in a minibus on a state-supervised trip to the Tunisian border. The journalists were not harmed in the attack.

• Yemen: Under pressure from protesters and regional allies, Yemen’s president said he will sign a deal to step down after 32 years in power. Still, he condemned the proposal as “a coup” and warned the U.S. and Europe that his departure will open the door for al-Qaida to seize control of the fragile nation on the edge of Arabia.

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Syrian security forces opened fire on a funeral procession for slain anti-government protesters Saturday, pushing the number of people reported killed in a two-month uprising to more than 900 and making it one of the deadliest of the Arab Spring.

The latest bloodshed suggests that crackdowns by President Bashar Assad’s regime show no signs of easing despite international sanctions and condemnations from the U.S. and its allies.

Excluding Libya – where battles between Moammar Gadhafi’s forces and his opponents have left possibly thousands dead since February – Syria’s death toll is now higher than any country that has been gripped by uprisings.

During Egypt’s 18-day revolt that toppled long-serving President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, at least 846 Egyptians died. In Tunisia – which sparked the region’s upheavals – an estimated 219 people were killed before President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down in January.

A crackdown by authorities in Yemen has left more than 150 protesters dead, opposition groups say. The number killed in Bahrain, Oman and other places shaken by unrest is far lower.

Syria’s bloodshed also stands out because of its relative small population: about 22 million people compared with 80 million in Egypt. Tunisia has about 10.5 million people.

The Syrian toll is based on tallies by rights activists and other sources opposing Assad’s government. Syrian officials have often reported deaths of security forces and others – blaming them on armed thugs – but have not given an overall figure. Syria has banned most foreign journalists, so death counts cannot be independently verified.

Most of Syria’s deaths have occurred on Fridays, when tens of thousands of people march to the streets from mosques following traditional noon prayers. The National Organization for Human Rights in Syria raised the latest Friday death toll to 44, making it one of the deadliest days since the uprising against Assad’s regime began.

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