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Unrest Engulfs Parts of Middle East After Friday Prayers


A Syrian pro-government protester shouts slogans during a protest following Friday prayers outside the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, April 15, 2011

A Syrian pro-government protester shouts slogans during a protest following Friday prayers outside the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, April 15, 2011

Large demonstrations were reported in over half a dozen Syrian cities Friday, as opponents of the government demanded more freedom and called on the government to release political prisoners. Large protests also swept at least a dozen cities in Yemen, as President Ali Abdullah Saleh addressed supporters in the capital Sana'a.

Syrian protesters march in Damascus

Thousands of Syrian protesters marched in the streets of a Damascus suburb Friday, shouting and chanting against the government. Witnesses say security forces used tear gas against the protesters who were marching towards the capital after Friday prayers.

A Facebook website supporting change in Syria showed videos of protesters marching in the streets of nearly a dozen Syrian cities.

In the mostly Sunni Muslim city of Homs, witnesses say protesters dispersed as security forces fired automatic rifles.

In the flashpoint port city of Banias, scores of protesters marched towards the city center to demonstrate against the government, despite the presence of army troops. In a move to appease protesters, the government announced the release Friday of some prisoners arrested during recent sectarian strife.

A video released by the opposition Sham TV showed dozens of protesters in Banias being beaten by what appeared to be Syrian secret police.

Media figures and academics sympathetic to the government tried to downplay the violence and alleged government brutality in interviews with two pan-Arab television networks.

Yemeni protesters march in Sana'a

Hundreds of thousands of pro and anti-government demonstrators also rallied in dozens of cities across Yemen Friday. The largest demonstrations engulfed the capital Sana'a and the flashpoint city of Taiz.

Friday, a group of influential religious and tribal leaders abandoned embattled Yemeni President Saleh, calling on him to step down. President Saleh, however, remained defiant.

In Sana'a, he told a crowd that millions of Yemenis support the country’s constitutional order and that they continue to support him as president.

In Bahrain, the country’s foreign minister said Friday that the government was not trying to dissolve the Shi’ite opposition Wefaq Party, despite moves towards that effect a day earlier. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner had expressed concern Thursday about the possible attempt towards silencing opposition.

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