Beirut: More than 10,000 mourners in Syria joined funeral processions Monday a day after witnesses said security forces opened fire on crowds challenging the authoritarian rule of President Bashar Assad. A rights group claimed at least 12 people died in the bloodshed.
At least four coffins were carried by the funeral marchers in the western city of Homs, the center of Sunday's clashes, said a witness. Security forces stayed away from the mourners in an apparent move to avoid confrontation, said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
The witness' account could not be independently confirmed because Syria has placed tight restrictions on media outlets and expelled foreign journalists.
Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria's National Organization for Human Rights, said the death toll had risen to 12 from the Sunday shootings during protests and a funeral for an anti-government activist.
He said eight people died in Homs, 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Damascus, and a nearby village. He added that four protesters were killed in clashes between security forces and protesters in the northern cities of Latakia and Idlib.
In the past month, Syrian security forces in uniforms and plainclothes have launched a deadly crackdown on demonstrations, killing at least 200 people, according to human rights groups. The government has blamed armed gangs seeking to stir up unrest for many of the killings.
Syria's state-run news agency said one policeman was killed and 11 other policemen and security personnel were wounded when an "armed criminal gang" opened fire on them in Talbiseh on Sunday.
The latest killings were bound to increase pressure on Assad, who has tried to quell the popular uprising with a mixture of brute force and concessions. On Saturday, he promised to end nearly 50 years of emergency rule this week, a key demand of the protesters.
Syria's widely despised emergency laws have been in place since the ruling Baath Party came to power in 1963, giving the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge and extending state authority into virtually every aspect of life.
But he warned there will no longer be "an excuse" for organizing protests once Syria lifts emergency rule and implements reforms, which he said will include a new law allowing the formation of political parties.
First Published: Monday, April 18, 2011, 21:29