Syrian forces fired warning shots in Deraa

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syrian forces fired into the air yesterday to disperse a pro-democracy protest in the southern flashpoint city of Deraa, where reformists want to overthrow the 41-year rule of the Assad family.

More than 60 people have been killed so far in the crackdown in the city on the Jordanian border that poses the most serious challenge to President Bashar al-Assad. Residents said security forces’ snipers were on rooftops.

Assad has yet to speak publicly on the protests, which have spread to the northern port of Latakia, Hama in central Syria and other towns, but officials say he will make a speech in the next two days amid speculation he could lift emergency rule.

Crowds converged on Deraa’s main square yesterday, chanting: “We want dignity and freedom” and “No to emergency laws.”

Security forces fired sustained bursts into the air for several minutes in the direction of demonstrators, but the protesters returned once firing stopped, residents said.

It was not immediately clear if there had been casualties.

Assad’s crackdown on what his officials say are armed groups has drawn international condemnation as protesters, emboldened by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, confronted the security system of one of the most tightly controlled Arab countries.

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