Anti-government protests in several Syrian cities

Thousands of protesters filled a town square in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Friday morning, ringing its main mosque and preparing for large scale demonstrations a week after at least 15 protesters died there in clashes with security forces, according to an activist reached by telephone.

“The crowds in Douma are huge,” said Wissam Tarif, executive director of Insan, a Syrian human rights group, who was in the town early Friday morning.

Protest organizers have called for demonstrations against the government of President Bashar al-Assad in several provinces in what they called a “Friday of Steadfastness.”

Across the Arab world, Friday has become the central day of protests against autocratic rule as worshippers poured from mosques after noon prayers on the Muslim holy day in a revolutionary upsurge that has toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and brought turmoil to other countries including Yemen, Bahrain and Libya.

In Syria, Reuters reported new protests in the eastern Kurdish areas on Friday, a day after Mr. Assad sought to quell unrest by offering Syrian nationality to the Kurds there. There were also protests reported in the southern town of Dara’a.

Security forces have not been seen in large numbers inside Douma for much of this week. But they maintain a heavy presence in the capital, Damascus, where activists feared as many as two hundred protesters may have been detained in a crackdown at Al Rifai mosque, a center of protests last week.

Six buses carrying uniformed and plainclothes security forces arrived at the mosque in the Damascus neighborhood of Kafr Souseh during the Friday Prayer, said Mr. Tarif, the human rights activist, pulling open its doors and arresting worshippers as the service finished. Security forces scuffled with those at the mosque and many were loaded into the waiting buses, some chanting “Freedom! Freedom!”

The new gatherings came after smaller groups demonstrated on Thursday in the towns of Daraya, Qaboun and Irbin, as well as in Douma, in memory of those killed last week. Last Friday, demonstrations in Douma erupted into violence when security forces opened fire on the crowd, killing at least 15 people, according to human rights groups. Most of the dead were shot by snipers. NYT