A group of around 200 mostly young protesters gathered Tuesday in the Syrian capital Damascus to demand reforms and the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad in a ‘Day of Rage’ meant to emulate demonstrations in other Arab countries.
Witnesses said the gathering was relatively small, but significant for a country where anti-government protests are rare.
Some online activists said that several protestors had been detained in Damascus and the city of Aleppo, but this could not be independently confirmed.
Syria’s so-called ‘Day of Rage’ was organized mostly through a Facebook page, which had nearly 42,000 followers.
The state-run newspaper al-Watan reported Tuesday that citizens had complained that they were receiving texts, allegedly from Israeli operatives, to create chaos and protest in Syria.
However, administrators of the protesters’ main Facebook page dismissed official claims that foreign agents were behind the calls for protests.
While much of the Arab world continues to see thousands of people taking to the streets with calls for political change, attempted protests in Syria in recent weeks have drawn out much smaller numbers.
Rights groups and activists blame the low turnout on an internet crackdown initiated by the government.
One Syrian activist, who spoke to dpa on condition of anonymity, said earlier that a number of bloggers have been detained in recent weeks in an attempt to stop people from using the internet to share information and organize protests.
Among them was blogger Ahmad Hadifa, better known as Ahmad Abu al- Kheir, who the source said was arrested by Syrian security officers – and interrogated by military intelligence officials – for posting advice on how to circumvent online censorship and demanding the release of political prisoners in Syria.
Abu al-Kheir was released nearly a week after his arrest.
The detentions of the bloggers come within weeks of Syria allowing access to social networking websites it had blocked since 2007, although many websites are still unavailable and internet activity is closely monitored.