Following on the lines of other Middle Eastern countries, most notably Egypt, Syrians in the thousands marched through the streets of large cities, calling for reforms of an autocratic government. President Bashar al-Assad has reacted with both restraint and calls for enforced order, the results of the latter including dozens of deaths and many wounded.
The latest calls for freedom came during the funeral for several protesters killed during a crackdown in Douma a few days ago. The government said that police had fired tear gas and live ammunition into the large group of protesters in an effort to prevent bloodshed, saying that many of the protesters were armed. Protests also took place in Damascus and in other cities across the country.
Al-Assad has ruled Syria for 11 years, overseeing the continuation of a one-party rule and a set of emergency laws that have been in effect since 1963. Last week, he fired all of his government ministers and named Adel Safar, the former agriculture minister, to head a new Cabinet. The government ministers have little real power, however, because the government is run largely by the president, his family, and his security police.
The Syrian protests have taken on an ethnic element as well, as several hundred Kurds protested in the northeastern city of Qamishili, seeking citizenship. Similar protests have occurred for years in nearby Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.