Thousands Take to Syrian Streets as Protest Against Assad Regime Spreads

Anti-government riots in Syria enter fourth day, as army beefs up presence in the city of Dara'a in the south.

Anti-government riots in Syria entered their fourth day yesterday, with the army beefing up its presence in the city of Dara'a in the south. But despite the tanks and troops, the authorities have allowed the police to face off against the rioters directly.

For now, the unrest does not seem to have spread to Damascus or other big cities. The authorities had hundreds of people take to the streets of the capital to support the president.

Syria protest - AP - 21.3.2011

In Dara'a, in the southern Hauran district near Israel and Jordan, thousands marched at the funeral of a young man, Raed al-Karad, shot dead on Sunday by Syrian security forces.

Marchers shouting "Allah, Syria, Liberty" clashed with security personnel, who used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. Protesters set fire to the home of the recently dismissed governor, the Ba'ath Party headquarters and the offices of a cellular phone company owned by an associate of President Bashar Assad.

Dozens of soldiers or other security forces deployed in various places in Dara'a but did not open fire, in contrast to Saturday, when four people were shot dead by the security forces.

Protesters in the city of Jasem reportedly tore down a statue of the president's late father and predecessor, Hafez Assad. In Madaya, south of Dara'a, several hundred people marched in protest against Bashar Assad's regime and called for the government's downfall.

In Quneitra, on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, protesters also clashed with the security forces.

Meanwhile, members of Syria's Kurdish minority are demonstrating, mainly in the city of Kamishli on the Syrian-Turkish border.

The Syrian government seems to be trying to keep the protests from spreading beyond the south. The authorities may be accepting the demonstrations to a certain extent; yesterday they sent the justice minister to take part in a condolence ceremony for the people killed in Dara'a.

The Hauran district, one of Syria's poorest, receives little investment from the government. Average wages are between $100 and $200 a month.

Poverty may be the reason the unrest is focusing there, while Syrian Kurdistan has been no stranger to anti-government protests over the years.

For now, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and secular opposition figures abroad such as former Vice President Abed al-Halim Hadam and Bashar Assad's uncle Rifat Assad have not issued calls to action.