(From Reuters) – Syrian forces shot dead 20 protesters on Friday despite a pledge by President Bashar al-Assad that a crackdown was over, activists said as thousands marched across Syria, spurred on by U.S. and European calls for him to step down.
Most of the violence was in the southern province of Deraa where the uprising against Assad erupted in March, triggering a harsh response in which U.N. investigators say Syrian forces may have committed crimes against humanity.
“Bye-bye Bashar; See you in The Hague,” chanted protesters in the central city of Homs, waving their shoes in a gesture of contempt. “We want revenge against Maher and Bashar,” shouted others, referring to the Syria leader and his powerful brother.
“The people want the execution of the president,” shouted a crowd in northern Idlib province, reflecting deepening antipathy to the 45-year-old Assad. Some carried banners with slogans proclaiming “Signs of Victory.”
Local activist Abdallah Aba Zaid said 18 people were killed in Deraa province, including eight in the town of Ghabaghab, five in Hirak, four in Inkhil and one in Nawa. Dozens of people were wounded, he said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two people were also killed in the Bab Amro district of Homs.
Assad, from the minority Alawite sect in the mostly Sunni Muslim nation, told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week that military and police operations had stopped. But activists say his forces are still shooting at protesters.
“Maybe Bashar al-Assad does not regard police as security forces,” said a witness in Hama, where security forces fired machineguns late on Thursday to prevent a night-time protest.