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Shootings push death toll in Syria above 900

Security forces fire on funeral for protesters

Antigovernment protesters carried the coffins of people who they say were killed in the crackdown in Homs, Syria. Antigovernment protesters carried the coffins of people who they say were killed in the crackdown in Homs, Syria. (Shaam News Network/ Associated Press)
By Bassem Mroue
Associated Press / May 22, 2011

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BEIRUT — Syrian security forces opened fire on a funeral procession for slain antigovernment protesters yesterday, 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 by the United States and its allies.

Excluding Libya — where battles between Moammar Khadafy’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.

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.

Khadafy, too, has placed strict limits on media in government-held territory, making independent casualty checks impossible. Rebels have said thousands have been killed since protests began in February.

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 in mid-March.

Assad has also shrugged off US calls to step aside as well as a new rounds of sanctions targeting him and top aides. On Thursday, President Obama said Assad should lead his country to democracy or “get out of the way.’’ Syria’s official news agency said Obama’s admonition amounted to “incitement.’’

“International pressure is still weak,’’ said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut. “Despite Obama’s speech, the regime knows that staying in power is more important and in order to stay in power the regime is ready to do anything.’’

Yesterday, tens of thousands of people took part in the funeral for eight of those killed a day earlier in the central city of Homs, local activists said. The funeral procession came under fire as the people marched from a cemetery, leaving at least three dead and dozens wounded, they said.

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