Syrian protesters take inspiration from Libya
BEIRUT (AP) — Inspired by the scenes of euphoria in Libya, Syrian protesters poured into the streets Friday and shouted that President Bashar Assad's regime will be the next to unravel now that ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is dead.
The Syrian uprising has proved remarkably resilient over the past seven months, but it has shown some signs of stalling in recent weeks as the government continues a bloody crackdown that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 3,000 people.
Syrian security forces fired on protesters Friday, killing at least four, activists said.
Although the mass demonstrations in Syria have shaken one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, the opposition has made no major gains in recent months, it holds no territory and has no clear leadership.
Now the armed uprising in Libya that drove Gadhafi from power — albeit with NATO air support — appears to have breathed new life into the Syrian revolt.
"Gadhafi is gone, your turn is coming, Bashar," protesters shouted on Friday in the central city of Hama, long a hotbed of resistance to the regime.
Gadhafi's death Thursday, after he was dragged from hiding in a drainage pipe, begging for his life, decisively ends the nearly 42-year regime that had turned the oil-rich country into an international pariah and his own personal fiefdom.
"Our souls, our blood we sacrifice for you, Libya!" Syrian protesters chanted Friday.
In many ways, the Syrian uprising has taken cues from the Libyans recently.
Syria's opposition formed a national council like the Libyans' National Transitional Council, hoping they could form a united front against Assad that Syrians and the international community could rally behind.
And with the successes of armed Libyan revolutionaries present in their minds, many Syrian protesters say they are starting to see the limits of a peaceful movement, particularly when compared to the armed uprising in Libya.
Some Syrians are now calling on protesters to take up arms and inviting foreign military action, hoisting signs that say "Where is NATO?" and urging the world to come to Syria's aid.
For the most part, Syrian opposition leaders have opposed foreign intervention.
There is no central call to arms by the opposition, in part because there is no clear leadership in the movement.
The Syrian opposition is disparate and fragmented, with various parties vying for power as they seek an end to more than 40 years of iron rule by Assad and his late father, Hafez.
There have been some clashes in border regions between Syrian forces and apparent defectors from the military, but they have not been widespread.
Still, the growing signs of armed resistance may accelerate the cycle of violence gripping the country by giving the government a pretext to use even greater firepower against its opponents. Authorities have already used tanks, snipers and gangster-like gunmen known as "shabiha" who operate as hired guns for the regime.
The regime has sealed off the country and prevented independent media coverage, making it difficult to verify events on the ground.
AP writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.