By ANDY SOLTIS, April 9, 2011
At least 22 Syrian protesters were killed and dozens wounded when security forces attacked them in three cities in the worst bloodshed since pro-democracy demonstrations began last month, witnesses said.
But President Bashar al-Assad’s news agency claimed “vandals” and “armed groups” sparked the mayhem and listed the victims as 19 security officers killed and 75 wounded in the flashpoint city of Daraa.
Witnesses said security forces opened fire on protesters who had set fire to an office of Assad’s ruling Baath Party and smashed a statue of his brother Basil as they chanted “God, Syria, freedom!”
“My clothes are soaked with blood,” said a man who counted at least 13 corpses as he helped ferry the casualties to a Daraa hospital.
Ammar Qurabi, who heads Syria’s National Organization for Human Rights, said his group had the names of 17 protesters killed in Daraa, plus two more in Homs and three in the Damascus suburb of Harasta.
Elsewhere in the Arab world yesterday:
* At least four protesters were reported shot dead and 25 others wounded in Yemen as embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh rejected an exit plan offered by his neighbors.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states had pushed for a compromise that would allow Saleh to end his 32 years in power and avoid prosecution.
“We don’t get our legitimacy from Qatar or from anyone else,” Saleh told thousands of supporters in the capital Sa’ana. “We reject this belligerent intervention.”
* About 200,000 Egyptians returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square — this time to denounce the military’s failure to prosecute members of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
Protesters who had welcomed the role of the army, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, in bringing down Mubarak, shouted “Tantawi, Tantawi, get your act together or do you want a pool of blood?”
As military helicopters hovered over the square, demonstrators waved white and black Egyptian flags and staged a mock trial of the 82-year-old Mubarak.
* Hundreds of Saudi Shiites protested in the kingdom’s oil-producing east yesterday, seeking the withdrawal of Saudi troops from neighboring Bahrain, where they are supporting the monarchy, and political rights and freedoms at home, demonstrators said.
* In the United Arab Emirates, authorities arrested a blogger and rights activist who said he’d gotten death threats for calling for political freedoms.