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Syrian Protesters Wait for President's Address

Supporters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad shout slogans in Syria's northern city of Aleppo, March 27, 2011
Supporters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad shout slogans in Syria's northern city of Aleppo, March 27, 2011

Anti-government protesters are calling for continued strikes as the country awaits an official address on the crisis soon by President Bashar al Assad. Analysts are expecting the president to announce an end to a decades-old emergency law.

In the northern port city of Latakia, streets were quiet as schools and businesses remained closed following a weekend of violence. Funerals of some of those killed in shootings Saturday were due to be buried Monday.

Syrian government TV accused foreign powers of inciting the recent wave of popular protests across the country and complained that Western media were exaggerating the extent of the unrest. Foreign journalists have been arrested, expelled, and several remain unaccounted for.

Witnesses reported that Syrian security forces fired tear gas Monday at thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans in the southern city of Daraa. Other witnesses claimed that security forces fired live ammunition, but Syrian TV denied the charges.

The TV also broadcast the testimonies of dozens of citizens vowing support for Assad. Several complained that Arab satellite TV channels were distorting news of protests and unrest in their country. One man even accused the U.S. and Israel of inciting recent unrest.

Sheikh Ismail Mohieddin said that Syria is calling on its citizens to stand together and to fight this American and Israeli plot, and prevent anything from causing division among the Syrian people.

Assad’s top advisor, Buthaina Sha'aban, accused Islamic fundamentalists of being behind the violence, al Arabiya TV reports. Sha'aban told journalists recently that Assad would announce major reforms soon, including the lifting of an emergency law dating back to 1963.

Assad has remained silent since violence broke out ten days ago, leaving dozens dead and wounded in at least six Syrian towns and cities. Vice President Farouk Al-Shara told journalists early Monday that Assad would probably address the Syrian public soon.

Al-Shara said that Assad will address an important message within the next couple of days. He added that the message will reassure everyone.

Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan also told a press conference that he had spoken with Assad within the past three days and encouraged him to listen to popular demands.

Erdogan said that Assad’s closest advisor has announced a reform package and he hopes the measures are implemented in substance and not just in name. He stressed that he has asked Assad to address the public and announce those reforms in person, and hopes Assad will do so soon.

Meanwhile in Yemen, dozens of people reportedly were killed in the explosion of an arms factory in the southern province of Abyan. The explosion reportedly occurred as residents of the town of Jaar were looting the factory. Many bodies were burned beyond recognition.

Al Qaida rebels broke into the factory Sunday, stealing large quantities of arms and ammunition. The break-in occurred amid increasing divisions within the Yemeni army and an ongoing popular revolt against longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

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