For a second day running protesters gathered in the Syrian capital Damascus (map) to demand the release of political prisoners, defying a ban on demonstrations.
On Wednesday, around 100 people gathered in Marjeh Square, near the country’s interior ministry. They were mainly relatives of political prisoners calling for the release of their loved ones and an end to emergency laws.
Security forces quickly broke up the protest using batons, before arresting at least four people, witnesses told the Reuters news agency.
Thousands of political prisoners are in Syrian jails.
Major opposition groups are banned in the country and the government maintains stric control of the media and blocks access to several internet sites.
Shortly after the protesters rallied, reports said that a counter-demonstration was held in the same square. People chanted that they would defend the Syrian president “with our soul, with our blood”.
No chance of spreading
Videos posted online show that on Tuesday hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the capital and other cities, calling for democratic reforms.
It was a rare show of dissent against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The AP news agency reported that Tuesday’s protest was quickly broken up by government supporters.
About 42,000 people became fans of a Facebook page in favour of a “Syrian revolution”, which is promoting demonstrations “in all Syrian cities”.
Syria has been ruled by al-Assad’s Baath Party since 1963 and in 2000 Mr Al-Assad succeeded his father as president.
In January, president al-Assad told the Wall Street Journal that his country is more stable than his neighbours – Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya -, adding that there is no chance of the protests to reach Syria.
He then pledged to press on with a package of reforms.