Middle East

Jeremy Bowen: Syria and Yemen catch revolutionary mood

Clashes at Omayyad Mosque in Damascus after Friday prayers, 25 March
Image caption A demonstration in Damascus was broken up

The revolutionary mood calling for reform and freedom that has gripped the Arab world since the beginning of the year is spreading.

In the course of Friday there were significant events in two countries at either end of the region, Syria and Yemen.

In Syria, protests that have been going on for a week or more in the city of Deraa have spread. They seem to have been inspired by the reports that as many as 40 people have been killed by the authorities in Deraa in the last week, and perhaps more on Friday.

The BBC cannot confirm the reports - Syrian security forces turned back a BBC team that tried to reach Deraa. An eyewitness told the BBC that there was a demonstration in Damascus, the capital, and that it was broken up.

Syria has been a tightly-run police state for generations. The protests have produced more offers of reform from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, including the repeal of an emergency law that's been in place since 1963.

President Assad, who succeeded his father in the job 11 years ago, is personally popular. But that might change if his security forces kill more protesters and if he doesn't deliver on reform.

Significantly a demonstration was reported today in the city of Hama, where in 1982 the first President Assad put down a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Estimates of the dead back then started at about 10,000 and went much higher.

On the way out

In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised to hand over power after weeks of demonstrations but only to what he called "safe hands".

He has been negotiating with a senior general who joined the opposition this week, after the regime killed about 50 protesters at a rally in Sanaa, the capital. But so far, no deal has been made.

During the day, tens of thousands of protesters, some supporting the president and some the opposition, were said to have been on the streets of Sanaa.

President Saleh has been considered a vital ally in the fight against al-Qaeda but after more than 30 years at the top, he is on the way out. And Western countries once again are struggling to keep up with the mood of change that is sweeping through the Middle East.

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