REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Thousands of mourners braved a snowstorm and heavy security presence to march Saturday through a strategic Damascus neighborhood, turning a funeral procession into a bold opposition statement in a Syrian capital that has remained largely loyal to President Bashar Assad.
The march, in the upscale Mezzeh district, started out peacefully but later turned violent, opposition activists said, as security men unleashed barrages of live rounds. At least one person was reported killed and several injured, though there was no official confirmation.
The opposition said as many as 30,000 people participated, a figure that would make it one of the largest protests in the capital since the uprising against Assad’s rule began 11 months ago.
Protests in the capital have typically been confined to suburban opposition enclaves. Anti-Assad activists saw a symbolic milestone in the defiant throngs marching openly through Mezzeh—the presidential palace overlooks part of the district.
“Damascus came out from under the ashes,” declared Rima Fleihan, a Syrian screenwriter who organized protests in the Syrian capital before fleeing last year to Amman, Jordan. “Damascus has risen up like a giant.”
But many observers still consider the capital to be firmly in the camp of Assad, whose family has ruled the country for more than 40 years.
The demonstration Saturday in Damascus seemed to have a larger proportion of women than other protests, observers said, though it was unclear why.
--Patrick J. McDonnell and Katie Paul
Photo: Snow covers an area of Damascus, Syria. Credit: Youssef Badawi / European Pressphoto Agency