Middle East

Syria: Thousands attend funerals after Homs clashes

A mobile phone photo purporting to show the funeral for the people killed overnight in Homs (18 April 2011)
Image caption Mourners chanted anti-government slogans as they marched through Homs

Thousands have attended funerals in the Syrian city of Homs after clashes between opposition groups and security forces left at least eight people dead.

Mourners called for the overthrow of the government as they marched through the street, witnesses said.

Video images posted on the internet by opposition activists showed no security forces in sight.

The latest deaths came after soldiers fired on crowds protesting at the death of a tribal leader in state custody.

President Bashar al-Assad has pledged reforms to try to calm weeks of protest, but protesters say the concessions are not enough.

On Saturday, Mr Assad said he expected Syria's 48-year-old emergency law to be lifted this week.

Witnesses say anti-government protests intensified in Homs - 165km (100 miles) north of Damascus - after authorities handed over the body of tribal leader Sheikh Badr Abu Moussa on Saturday. He died in custody a week after being arrested.

Walid Saffour, London-based President of the Syrian Human Rights Committee, told the BBC that Mr Abu Moussa had been tortured.

"His beard was burned and he died under torture in one of the security branches in Homs, most likely the military security branch," he said.

"Yesterday he was taken to (the) graveyard to be buried. After that, many people in 12 places in Homs went to (the) street chanting and calling from freedom, for liberties and even for change of the system."

Mr Saffour said the government should be held accountable for the deaths of its citizens.

"It is a genocide and a massacre against humanity," he said.

'Homs is boiling'

An activist told Reuters news agency that the death of Mr Abu Moussa was "too much to take".

"Homs is boiling. Security forces and the regime thugs have been provoking armed tribes for a month now," he added.

Members of Mr Abu Moussa's Fawara tribe, along with members from the Bani Khaled tribe and local residents, took to the streets across Homs on Sunday night to protest against his death and the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. They were "shot at in cold blood", the activist said.

"The possibility that some protesters were armed cannot be ruled out. The tribes feel insulted and they want revenge. But the security forces were seen driving in trucks and shooting at civilians," he added.

Witnesses told the AFP news agency that security forces had fired live rounds to disperse a demonstration in the Bab Sbaa district.

Syria's official news agency says that in most areas, calm is prevailing, reflecting citizens' satisfaction with Mr Assad's reforms.

When it has reported on violent incidents, it has blamed armed criminal gangs.

Human rights groups say at least 200 protesters have been killed in the past four weeks as security forces try to quell the most serious challenge to Mr Assad's rule since he succeeded his father 11 years ago.