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Ramadan starts amid turmoil

world Updated: Aug 02, 2011 23:50 IST

More than a billion Muslims across the world begin observing this week the holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting and prayer which this year coincides with deadly turmoil in West Asia.

Arab governments are bracing for increased tensions in the region which has been rocked by unprecedented pro-democracy uprisings that have brought down autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

In Syria, where a bloody crackdown on dissent nears its fifth month, authorities fear that protesters will rally against the regime when they emerge from mosques after nightly "taraweeh" prayers.

Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force of the protest movement wrote: "The regime is afraid of Ramadan and the taraweeh prayers," and has called for "retaliation protests". "Syria is bleeding," a message said.

In Libya, rebel fighters locked for months in deadly battles with strongman Muammar Gaddafi's regime, told AFP there was no question of stopping what they see as their march on Tripoli.

"Yes, Ramadan is beginning but we will continue to fight," said Colonel Juma Brahim, head of the rebel fighters' operational command in the Nafusa region, from his command post in Zintan. "If it's war and we're tired, we'll eat. But if we remain in a defensive position, we will fast. God is with us," said Hatem al-Jadi, a 24-year-old fighter in the western desert hamlet of Gualish, south of Tripoli.

But in Cairo, where massive streets protests overthrew the 30-year rule of president Hosni Mubarak in February, demonstrators camped out at the emblematic Tahrir Square suspended their sit-in for Ramadan.

Mubarak is due to face trial on Wednesday along with his two sons on charges of murder and corruption.

Egyptian youth protesters who brought down his regime in a swift 18 days of protests said they will return to Tahrir Square to press for reforms after the holy month is over.

But protesters in Yemen camped out since February at a square near the university in the capital Sanaa to end the rule of president Ali Abdullah Saleh say they are determined to stay put. "This will be the month of change, especially since Ali Abdullah Saleh is not in Yemen," said Walid al-Omari, an activist from the country's "Youth Revolution" group.