UPDATE 1-Syrian protesters renew call for protection, 20 killed

Fri Oct 28, 2011 1:17pm GMT

(Adds detail)

AMMAN Oct 28 (Reuters) - Syrian government forces killed at least 20 civilians when they opened fire at demonstrations that started after Friday prayers in Hama and Homs despite a heavy military presence, activists and residents said.

They said protesters called for international protection from NATO, whose war planes played a vital role in the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Similar rallies took place across Syria after prayers, the activists said. The protests, calling for President Bashar al-Assad to quit, were energiserd by Gaddafi's death last week.

Gaddafi had close links with Assad, who has sent tanks and troops to put down seven months of street protests demanding an end to 41 years of Assad family rule.

An armed insurgency has also emerged in the last several weeks, mainly in rural regions and in Homs, a city of one million, 140 km (85 miles) north of Damascus, where the army and militiamen loyal to Assad have been assaulting old neighbourhoods that have been scene of regular protests.

The Assad government says it intends to carry out political reform and that the unrest is fomented by militants trying to wreck the programme. More than 1,100 soldiers and policemen have been killed in the violence, it says.

Local residents said helicopters fired machineguns and rockets at residential neighbourhoods of Homs this week in an escalation of the military operation. The authorities have barred independent media from the city, making confirmation impossible.

"God, Syria, We want a no-fly zone over it," shouted protesters in the Bab Tadmur neighbourhood of Homs.   Continued...

Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.