Syria - Reuters - April 17, 2011
Boys hold a banner during a demonstration in the the Syrian port city of Banias April 17, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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Syrian security forces killed three mourners on Sunday when they opened fire on a funeral that had turned into a demonstration on a highway outside the town of Talbiseh, north of the central city of Homs, two witnesses said.

They had been attending the funeral of a man killed the day before by security forces, the witnesses said. The mourners marched across a bridge on the highway near where security police and gunmen loyal to President Bashar Assad were stationed.

Despite Assad's promises of reform such as lifting the decades-old emergency laws, protests continued to erupt in several cities in Syria with thousands of people taking to the streets to call for greater freedom.

Thousands of protesters in the southern town of Suweida participated in a rally to mark Evacuation Day, commemorating the departure of the last French soldiers 65 years ago and Syria's proclamation of independence.
Supporters of Assad were present alongside protesters, declaring loyalty to the president.

Several hundred people chanted "the people want freedom" at the grave of independence leader Ibrahim Hananu in Syria's second city Aleppo on Sunday, a rights campaigner in contact with the protesters said.

Aleppo, a large trading and industrial hub, has been mostly free of protests since mass pro-democracy demonstrations challenging President Bashar al-Assad's authoritarian rule erupted more than a month ago in southern Syria and spread to large parts in the country of 20 million people.

Assad said on Saturday that the emergency laws, in place for almost 50 years, would be lifted by next week. But he did not address protesters' demands to curb Syria's pervasive security apparatus and dismantle its authoritarian system.

"God, Syria, freedom, that's all," chanted several hundred protesters in the South Syria town of Suweida. They also shouted "no fear" and slogans in support of the city of Deraa, where protests first broke out a month ago and has suffered the heaviest bloodshed.

Human rights groups say more than 200 people have been killed since demonstrations erupted in Deraa on March 18 in protest against the arrest of youths who had scrawled graffiti inspired by the Arab uprisings in North Africa.

The unprecedented unrest has spread across the tightly controlled state, posing the sternest challenge yet to the 45-year-old Assad, who assumed the presidency in 2000 when his father, Hafez Assad, died after 30 years in power.

Authorities have pledged to replace the repressive emergency law with anti-terrorism legislation, but opposition figures said this was likely to preserve tough restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly in Syria, which has been under Baath Party rule since 1963.

"When the lifting of the emergency law package is issued, it should be firmly enforced. The Syrian people are civilized. They love order and they do not accept chaos and mob rule," Assad told a new cabinet which he named last week.

"We will not be lenient toward sabotage," Assad said in the comments broadcast by state television. Syrian authorities have blamed "infiltrators" for stirring up unrest at the behest of outside players, including Lebanon and Islamist groups.