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Syria Braces for More Anti-Regime Protests

Syrian military vehicles leave Daraa, May 5, 2011

Syrian military vehicles leave Daraa, May 5, 2011

Syrian government forces expanded their crackdown on public opposition Thursday uprising, deploying tanks around the historic city of Hama, where the Syrian regime crushed a revolt almost 20 years ago. Opposition websites are calling for further anti-government protests Friday.

The Syrian government released a number of mostly young detainees arrested in recent days, in what appeared to be a calculated gesture to pull back from the brink of conflict. However, rights activists say there were more arrests in Banias and nearby villages.

Tanks and military personnel remained positioned to intervene further in the restive flashpoint cities of Homs, Hama, Banyas, and suburbs of Daraa, but no clashes were reported. A fresh opposition protest is expected Friday, but the government crackdown could limit turnout.

The city of Homs, shelled by army tanks Wednesday, was quiet, but most shops and businesses were closed and streets appeared deserted.

Security forces and government militiamen also reportedly arrested scores of people when they broke up a demonstration by several thousand students at Aleppo University late Wednesday.

Dozens of young people held a nighttime vigil in the coastal city of Latakia, according to a video on Facebook. Foreign journalists are not being allowed to enter Syria, so the vigil and other reported protests could not be independently confirmed.

Syrian government television repeated claims that terrorists and outside agitators have been attacking army troops. It says the government is trying to restore order.

Meanwhile, in Libya, NATO planes attacked targets in Tripoli including part of leader Moammar Gadhafi’s military compound. The airstrike began just after Libyan television showed a meeting between Gadhafi and tribal leaders.

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said a bomb dropped by a NATO jet killed two Libyan journalists filming a documentary, in an area used as a playground for children. He refused to allow journalists to visit what several claimed was a bunker under the playground.

Moussa denounced the NATO bombings and said the Libyan government has repeatedly accepted a truce and negotiations.

He says the Gadhafi government is the only side that has announced it accepted all peace initiatives, including plans proposed by the African Union and Turkey, and agreed to peace and dialogue. Moussa claims the rebels and NATO have refused all attempts at peace and dialogue because - in his words - they know that a peace process will turn them into losers, since the Libyan people will reject them.

NATO says the Libyan leader and his forces have been attacking their own people, and that their offensive must stop immediately.

Fighting continued in several other parts of Libya Thursday. Rebels claim they now control 85 percent of the city of Misrata - including the airport - and have ousted Gadhafi loyalists.