SANAA/ CAIRO, (Reuters) – Protests erupted across much of the Arab world on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, with demonstrators dying in Syria and Yemen while Egyptians staged one of the biggest rallies since President Hosni Mubarak’s fall.
Syrian security forces killed at least 10 pro-democracy demonstrators and two were shot dead in Yemen.
In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, perhaps the spiritual home of the Arab protest movement, crowds demanded Mubarak’s prosecution as discontent with military rule grows, but in Oman heavy security prevented a planned demonstration after Friday prayers.
Friday has become a peak day of protest for many Arabs since popular demands for freedom, democracy and an end to corruption began inTunisia late last year and spread across the region.
In Syria security forces killed at least 10 people in the southern city of Deraa as protests against President Bashar al-Assad flared in several towns, witnesses said.
In the east, ethnic Kurds demonstrated for reform despite Assad’s offer this week to ease rules which bar many of them from obtaining citizenship, activists said.
Security men opened fire in Deraa, where the protests began last month before spreading across the country, said residents.
“I saw pools of blood and three bodies in the street being picked up by relatives in the Mahatta area,” said one of the witnesses, who spoke to Reuters by telephone.
“There were snipers on roofs. Gunfire was heavy. The injured are being taken to homes. No one trusts putting his relative in a hospital in these circumstances,” he added.
NO ORDERS OR INTERVENTION
Violence also broke out in Yemen as crowds demanded the overthrow of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Two people were shot dead and 25 wounded by gunfire in the southern city of Taiz, hospital sources said.
But Saleh appeared to reject any aspect of a Gulf Arab mediation plan for talks with the opposition that would aim to end his 32-year rule. “The Yemeni people are free to accept mediation from their brothers and friends, but they reject taking orders or intervention,” Saleh said in a statement.
Elsewhere, the day of protest was more peaceful.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square demanded Mubarak’s prosecution and accused the military of being too slow to root out corruption from his era.
“Oh Field Marshal, we’ve been very patient!” chanted some of the demonstrators in the square, hub of the movement that toppled Mubarak on February 11 and left the army in charge, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
Friday’s protest had swollen by early afternoon to at least 100,000, indicating growing frustration with the army which has enjoyed broad support since it took control of the country.
“It’s a strong message that the revolution is not over yet and is still going on and will not quieten down before its goals are realised,” said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science and a prominent figure in the reform movement.
Heavy security prevented demonstrations after Friday prayers in the Omani city of Sohar, where protesters camped out for over a month before forces moved them out last week.
Checkpoints were set up across the city with dozens of armoured vehicles blocking access to protest areas. Residents’ names were checked against a list and access to mosques was restricted, while a helicopter flew overhead, witnesses said.