Syria’s Assad deploys army in port to keep order

DAMASCUS, (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad,  facing the gravest crisis in his 11-year rule, deployed the army  in Syria’s main port of Latakia for the first time after nearly  two weeks of protests spread across the country.
Assad, 45, who has made no direct public comment since  protests started sweeping Syria, was expected to address the  nation shortly, officials said, without giving further details.
Dozens have died in pro-democracy demonstrations in the  southern city of Deraa and nearby Sanamein as well as Latakia in  the northwest, Damascus and other towns over the last week.
Syrian state television showed deserted streets in Latakia  littered with rubble and broken glass and a burnt-out bus. The  government says that armed groups, possibly backed by foreign  powers, are trying to stir sectarian conflict across Syria.
Witnesses said major cities appeared calm today, but  several hundred men were holding a sit-in at the Omari Mosque in  the town of Deraa, the original focus of protests and scene of a  crackdown by security forces last week.
The dispatch of troops to the streets of Latakia on Saturday  signals growing government alarm about the ability of the  security police to maintain order there. Latakia is a  potentially volatile mix of Sunni Muslims, Christians and the  Alawites who constitute Assad’s core support.
Its residential areas house large secret police complexes.
“There is a feeling in Latakia that the presence of  disciplined troops is necessary to keep order,” one resident  told Reuters. “We do not want looting.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday the United  States deplored the bloodshed in Syria, but that a Libya-style  intervention should not be expected.
The unrest in Syria came to a head after police detained  more than a dozen schoolchildren for scrawling graffiti inspired  by pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.
Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of  months ago in this most tightly controlled of Arab countries,  where the Baath Party has been in power for nearly 50 years.  Modern Syria gained its independence from France in 1946.

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