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Wave of protests sweep Syria

Thousands demanded the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday at the funeral of eight protesters killed in the central city of Homs as unrest swelled despite a promise to lift emergency law.

world Updated: Apr 19, 2011 02:38 IST

Thousands demanded the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday at the funeral of eight protesters killed in the central city of Homs as unrest swelled despite a promise to lift emergency law.

Activists in Homs said the eight were killed late on Sunday during protests against the death in custody of a tribal leader.

Wissam Tarif, a rights activist in Syria, said the toll was higher and he had the names of 12 people killed in the city.

"From alleyway to alleyway, from house to house, we want to overthrow you, Bashar," the mourners chanted, according to a witness at the funeral.

YouTube footage showed thousands of people filling a wide city square.

Assad, facing a month of demonstrations against his authoritarian Baath Party rule, said on Saturday that legislation to replace nearly half a century of emergency law should be in place by next week.

But his pledge did little to appease protesters calling for greater freedoms in Syria, or curb violence which human rights organisations say has killed at least 200 people.

"Homs is boiling. The security forces and the regime thugs have been provoking armed tribes for a month now," a rights activist told Reuters from the city. Civilians who taken to the streets "were shot at in cold blood," he said.

Further north in Jisr al-Shughour around 1,000 people called on Monday for "the overthrow of the regime", echoing chants of protesters who overthrew leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, at the funeral of a man they said was killed by security forces.

Assad says Syria is the target of a conspiracy and authorities blame the violence on armed gangs and infiltrators supplied with weapons from Lebanon and Iraq.

The unrest, which broke out a month ago in the southern city of Deraa, has spread across Syria and presented the gravest challenge yet to Assad, who assumed the presidency in 2000 when his father Hafez al-Assad died after 30 years in power.

In the main port city of Latakia, actvists reported deaths from clashes overnight.

"We heard there were several deaths yesterday," a rights activist from Syria said. "The pattern is repeating itself: protests, killings by security forces, funerals turned into protests, and killing and vehement slogans against Bashar."