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Syrian protesters face more violence in campaign against Assad

At least 12 protesters were reportedly killed today in demonstrations across Syria, where greater instability could alter the balance of power in the Middle East.

By Correspondent / April 1, 2011

Protesters wave Syrian flags and banners as they shout slogans during a protest against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his regime outside the Syrian embassy in Prague, Czech Republic, on Friday, April 1.

Jakub Dospiva/CTK/AP

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Beirut, Lebanon

Facing its gravest domestic crisis in decades, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad appears to have chosen force instead of reform to confront antiregime protests.

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His forces clashed again with protesters Friday, reportedly killing at least a dozen people who participated in rallies in defiance of regime warnings and a heavy security presence.

In an uncompromising speech this week, Mr. Assad failed to deliver a widely expected package that would introduce change, perhaps even end nearly 40 years of draconian emergency laws, and bring some degree of political realignment to the country that his minority Alawite sect has ruled since the early 1970s.

The demonstrators, who have been inspired by the uprising throughout the Middle East, were dismayed and angered by the speech. And they have vowed to press on.

"No one is immune in the region," says Ayman Abdel-Nour, a prominent Syrian activist and former Assad adviser now living in exile in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. "This is a new wave and a new atmosphere, and the young, the unemployed, the poor, the regular citizens have realized that they have rights."

The stakes in Syria are high. If Assad should fall, the ramifications will stretch from Iran to Saudi Arabia and possibly alter the balance of power in the Middle East. On one hand, Syria has deep connections with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas but is also seen by the United States and Israel as something of a stabilizing force in the region who has worked against Islamic extremists in HIS own country. Indeed, if Assad leaves, there will be a race to influence and guide whatever new leadership emerges.

"A new regime in Syria definitely will have an effect [on the region], but it depends on the nature of the new regime," says Ahmad Moussalli, a professor of politics at the American University of Beirut. "Syria holds the cards of Iran, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas, and whatever regime rules in Syria, it will not want to throw away those cards for nothing."

'God, Syria, and freedom'

Demonstrations were reported Friday in Deraa, the flashpoint town in southern Syria where the unrest began, in Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, and in Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates river in the east, where crowds chanted, "God, Syria, and freedom."

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