Syrian forces 'kill eight protesters'


Syrian forces shot dead eight protesters overnight in the city of Homs in clashes after the death of a tribal leader in custody, a rights campaigner in the central city said today.

"Homs is boiling. Security forces and the regime thugs have been provoking armed tribes for a month now," the activist, who asked not to be identified for fear of arrest, told Reuters from the city.

"Civilians in large numbers also took to the streets in different areas of Homs last night and they were shot at in cold blood," he added. The campaigner said protests against the Baath Party's rule intensified in Homs after authorities handed over the body of Sheikh Bader Abu Moussa of the Fawa'ra tribe to his family for burial on Saturday.

A 12-year-old child was killed at Mr Abu Moussa's funeral-turned-demonstration on the same day. Mr Abu Moussa was arrested a week before outside a mosque after he took part in a pro-democracy demonstration, one of many across Syria in protest against President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year-old rule.

"He was a healthy man before they took him and a corpse afterwards. It is known that the security forces have been dealing brutally with the protesters, but this is too much to take," the rights activist said.

"The possibility that some protesters were armed cannot be ruled out. The tribes feel insulted and they want revenge. But the security forces were seen driving in trucks and shooting at civilians."

Syrian authorities have stepped up a campaign of arrests against lawyers, independent figures and activist since the protests erupted a month ago.

Officials blamed armed groups and infiltrators for the violence, saying they had opened fire on security forces and protesters alike.

Members of Abu Moussa's tribe took to the streets of Homs yesterday to protest against his death. They were joined by members of the Bani Khaled tribe and large numbers of residents who gathered in several places across the city, the activist added.

Homs, a conservative city 165km north of Damascus, is known for its well-educated population which includes, artists, intellectuals and national figures who oppose the Baath Party's monopoly on power, such as the country's leading dissident Riad al-Turk.

He spent almost 18 years in solitary confinement during the rule of Hafez al-Assad, father of current president Bashar al-Assad.