SYRIA: At least nine protesters reported killed

 REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Syrian security forces killed at least nine demonstrators Saturday during protests against President Bashar Assad's regime, anti-government activists said.

The biggest death toll reported was in the northeastern city of Qamishli, where thousands marched to mourn the shooting death a day earlier of Mashaal Tammo, a prominent and charismatic Kurdish opposition leader.  Activists said at least five people were killed in Qamishli, a heavily Kurdish city along the border with Turkey.

Tammo, a former political prisoner of the Assad regime, activists said, was shot dead Friday in a residence in Qamishli. Also injured in the attack were his son and an activist colleague, according to government and opposition accounts.

Activists blamed government assassins and said Tammo, one of the country's best-known Kurdish political activists, had survived a previous attempt on his life  in September.  Syria’s Kurdish minority has pressed a number of grievances, including alleged discrimination, lack of citizenship papers and disputed land claims.

The Syrian government news agency said Tammo and the two others were shot by four gunmen who  drove  a black car and opened fire with machine-guns.  The government blamed "an armed terrorist group" -- regime shorthand for activists opposed to Assad’s authoritarian rule.

Tammo’s killing was the latest in a wave of assassinations that have exacerbated tensions and fanned sectarian fears in Syria, where more than six months of conflict have left almost 3,000 dead, according to the United Nations.

Elsewhere, activists reported that demonstrators in Amuda, a largely Kurdish city near Qamishli, toppled a statue of the late Hafez Assad, who served as Syria’s president for almost three decades before being succeeded  by his son, Bashar.

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-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Video: Amateur footage purporting to show members of a crowd running away as shots are fired in Qamishli, Syria. Credit: YouTube

 
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