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Thousands march in Syria 'Good Friday' rally

Thousands take to streets in Syrian city responding to calls for protest on "Good Friday"

AFP , Friday 22 Apr 2011
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Thousands of protesters demonstrated in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli as calls were launched for nationwide "Good Friday" rallies, a day after President Bashar al-Assad scrapped decades of draconian emergency rule.

Witnesses in Qamishli near the Turkish border said that around up to 6,000 demonstrators marched in the city waving Syrian flags, while some of the protesters carried banners calling for an end to corruption.

"Arabs, Syriac (Orthodox) and Kurds against corruption," the banner said, according to one witness. Qamishli is a majority Kurdish city with Muslim and Christian communities.

Protesters also chanted, in Kurdish, "Liberty, fraternity," said another witness.

Witnesses said between 5,000 and 6,000 protesters were taking part in the march that began outside the Qasmo mosque.

Assad, in power since replacing his father Hafez as president in 2000, issued decrees Thursday to scrap the state of emergency as well as abolish the state security court and allow citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations.

The moves are aimed at placating a pro-democracy movement that has seen protests across the country, ruled by one of the Middle East's most autocratic regimes since the Baath Party seized power 48 years ago.

Activists and rights groups have called the moves insufficient and urged the authorities not to suppress the "Good Friday" rallies which some said would test the regime's sincerity in forging with reforms.

A Facebook group that has been a motor of the unprecedented protests called for the rallies spanning the Christian and Muslim faiths on "Good Friday," which commemorates Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

Friday is also the Muslim day of rest when the biggest demonstrations have been staged across Syria after weekly prayers in mosques.

"Good Friday, April 22, 2011, one heart, one hand, one goal," said the Facebook announcement.

Joshua Landis, head of the Centre for Middle East Studies and associate professor at the University of Oklahoma in the United States, said "Friday will be a day of reckoning."

"The organisers of the revolution vowed to turn out their largest numbers yet on what protesters have begun to call 'Great Friday'," Landis said on his popular blog Syria Comment.

"They are determined to bring down the regime and understand that this is their chance," he said in remarks posted Thursday.

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