Accessibility links

Demonstrators Demand Syrian Government Release Detainees

Women hold an anti-government demonstration in Banias, Syria, April 13, 2011

Women hold an anti-government demonstration in Banias, Syria, April 13, 2011

Witnesses say hundreds of people - mostly women and children - blocked a major coastal highway in Syria to protest the government's detention of opposition activists.

Witnesses say the chanting protesters gathered Wednesday on the main road linking the towns of Tartous and Banias to demand the release of hundreds of people arrested in nearby towns.

Western news reports say many of the detainees were the husbands and fathers of the protesters.

Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen detained at least 200 people after attacking the village of Baida Tuesday. Human rights lawyers and activists said security forces and loyalists to President Bashar al-Assad sealed off the village and went house to house rounding up people.

The Associated Press says Syrian authorities released about 100 of the detainees and brought them to the area where the protesters were rallying on Wednesday in an apparent bid to calm the demonstration.

Security forces have also sealed off the city of Banias, where security forces and pro-government gunmen killed four anti-government protesters and wounded dozens on Sunday.

Human Rights Watch said Tuesday Syrian security forces had prevented wounded protesters from receiving medical treatment following anti-government demonstrations last week.

Syria's Interior Ministry said in a statement Wednesday the accusation was "baseless" and blamed unidentified gunmen for the attacks on ambulances trying to pick up wounded protesters.

Anti-government protests erupted in Syria more than three weeks ago and have been spreading. Rights groups say the death toll since demonstrations began has now reached 200.

Demonstrators are calling for sweeping political reforms, particularly an end to the country's decades-old emergency law that gives the government a free hand to stamp out public protests, ban opposition and justify arbitrary arrests.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.