Conflict & Justice

Syrian Protesters Celebrate Libyan Rebels in Tripoli

As Libyan rebels poured into the capital Tripoli, Syrian anti-government protesters, who've been facing bullets, bombs and tanks at home, have sent congratulations. In a video posted to YouTube that Syrian activists say was filmed Monday at a mosque in the city of Homs, people chanted, "Congratulations to the Libyan rebels! Gaddafi out! God curse you President Bashar! Go out Bashar!" a reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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Like their counterparts in Libya, anti-government demonstrators have taken to the streets across Syria as part of this year's "Arab Spring." In both countries, demonstrators have called for the decades-old authoritarian regimes to step down. Now, with the Libyan rebel's success, the North African nation is an inspiring example to the protesters in Syria.

"It gave us a huge morale push," said Hozan Ibrahim, an activist with the Syrian Local Coordinating Committees, who have helped to organize the Syrian uprising.

"It gave us something that made us continue," he said.

Ibrahim, who's now based in Germany for his own safety, said his contacts back home tell him that Syrian demonstrators have been invoking Libya in their chants all day. He said Libya rebel flags also popped up at demonstrations around Syria, and on Facebook pages.

"People now are very delighted," Ibrahim said, adding that after Egypt and Tunisia, it's more proof that people can "get freedom by their own hands."

It appears to have been unfortunate timing for President Bashar Al-Assad. Just hours before Libyan rebels entered Tripoli, the Syrian president gave the first presidential interview to Syrian state TV since his father took control of the country in 1973.

During the interview, Assad said his government is fighting armed groups who are part of a foreign conspiracy trying to destroy Syria. But he said he wasn't worried.

He also laid out what he said was a road map for reform: A new law he would issue allowing more political parties. Parliamentary elections are set to be held by next February. And a committee to draft a new constitution — because the current constitution says Assad's Baath party is the "leading party in the society and the state government."

Syrians apparently remain skeptical. A video posted on YouTube is said to show Syrian men, watching the interview, throwing shoes at an outdoor projection screen with Assad's face on it. It's reminiscent of scenes from the early days of the Libyan revolution, when Libyan protesters did the same thing during Gaddafi speeches.

The president's statements also struck observers as being too little too late; not unlike other speeches dictators have made as their people have demanded for them to step down.

"Among the opposition and a big majority of those who are neutral in their views of what's happening in the country, nothing was new regarding the speech," said Damascus-based Syrian journalist Thabet Salem. "It was the same repetition of the same ideas."

Salem says Syrians are becoming increasingly dismayed by the government's violent response to the demonstrations.

"We've reached the no return point," Salem said. Unless the government forges an agreement with the opposition, "the street will not calm down."

But Salem noted that Syria is different from Libya. For one thing, few Syrians want foreign intervention. Salem said it's unclear how you change a government that's willing to use force against unarmed, peaceful protesters. Activist Hozan Ibrahim said no compromise is possible.

"People now have one aim — to have freedom," Ibrahim said. "[Assad] still believes in the security solution, and killing."

The London based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government security forces killed three people on Monday during a demonstration in Homs. The group says protesters were there to greet a United Nations fact-finding team that arrived to Syria on Sunday. Activists say the government is trying to "clean up" areas where troops have cracked down on protesters — going so far as to bus in supporters to act as local people and speak positively about the government to the UN team.