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Protests Flood Syria Despite Crackdown in Hama

Unofficially, 109 Syrians died in Hama yesterday, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that over 2,000 have died since the beginning of the uprising there. And yet the protesters continue to take to the streets in defiance of the government crackdown. It’s truly remarkable, given the danger present.

Tens of thousands of protesters demanding an end to the regime of President Bashar Assad took to the streets across Syria on Friday in defiance of a lethal military crackdown centered in the city of Hama, and the growing civilian toll brought intensified international condemnation of Assad’s embattled government.

Protests included a massive demonstration in the Arbaeen district just outside Damascus, the capital, which has largely been calm amid the violence elsewhere in the country. Security forces opened fire as protesters rallied after Friday prayers, killing four demonstrators, said Rami Nakhle, a spokesman in Beirut for the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, a Syrian opposition coalition.

The protests are “more than usual” despite the week-old military offensive that activists say has killed as many as 200 people in Hama, Nakhle said.

“Because of the crackdown in Hama, people all over went out on the streets in solidarity,” the opposition spokesman said. “This is what happens when the government tries to stop us.”

Security forces shelled Hama overnight as the repression continued there for a sixth day. The regime appears to want to turn the city into rubble, as a warning for all other protesters across the country. Today’s response shows that the protesters are not afraid. Friday after Friday, they keep coming back.

But with the international community unlikely to intervene in the conflict, and Bashar al-Assad unlikely to back down, it’s unclear what this means for the regime in the near term. In the long term I actually believe they will not retain power. But it could get very bloody between now and then.

It’s notable that Kuwait’s foreign ministry spoke out yesterday:

Kuwait’s foreign ministry expressed the government’s “extreme pain” over the violence in Syria and called for a political dialogue to bring “true reforms that meet the legitimate demands of the Syrian people, away from the security actions,” according to a statement carried by the Kuwait state news agency.

Though far milder than condemnations by the U.S. government, including a declaration late Thursday by White House spokesman Jay Carney that “Assad is on his way out,” the emirate’s declaration added to international moves that are leaving Syria increasingly isolated following the start of the Hama crackdown.

You can keep up on events in Syria and throughout the Middle East and North Africa on the Guardian’s liveblog.

…Apparently Dmitry Medvedev counseled Assad to enter into diplomatic talks with the opposition, lest he be deposed.

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David Dayen

David Dayen