Thousands chant for freedom at Syrian funeral

AMMAN (Reuters) – Thousands of Syrians chanted freedom slogans on Sunday at a mass funeral for eight protesters killed by security forces in the Damascus suburb of Douma, a witness said, in another sign of defiance against Baathist rule.

“Freedom, freedom, freedom. One, one, one. The Syrian people are one,” the crowd chanted as they carried the eight bodies draped in Syrian flags, according to the witness at the funeral.

“The traitor is the one who kills his own people,” they shouted as the funeral proceeded in the streets of the huge suburb, bringing the challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s 11-year-rule to the outskirts of his capital.

The witness said some mourners chanted “the people want to overthrow the regime,” the rallying cry of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. But others shouted back: “Not now. There will be plenty of time for regime overthrow.”

Security forces kept their distance. The eight were killed when security forces opened fire on protesters after Friday prayers, according to residents, who said they also saw snipers on rooftops.

“We sacrifice our souls and our blood for you, o martyr,” the mourners chanted, dismissing the official version that “armed gangs” were responsible for the violence in Douma and an unspecified number of deaths.

Douma is the traditional capital of al-Ghouta, the ancient garden district of Damascus which has been in decline as the main Barada river feeding Damascus from the anti-Lebanon mountains dried up, mostly becoming a stream of sewage.

But the conservative suburb, which is home to hundreds of thousands of people, is more prosperous than other areas around the capital and its population more educated. It also links Damascus with the northern countryside.

Witnesses said most of Douma’s shops were closed on Sunday, the second of three days of mourning in the city for the victims of the attack by security forces.

Douma residents started taking to the streets in large numbers after secret police arrested young students who wrote slogans on walls demanding “regime change.”

It is the same scenario that helped fuel resentment against Assad, his Baath Party and the security apparatus in the southern city of Deraa, where protests erupted 16 days ago before spreading to Damascus, the coast, and cities in between.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Thousands chant for freedom at Syrian funeral