Syria's second city Aleppo on Thursday saw the first significant anti-regime protests. Aleppo is considered the country's commercial hub. Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters swept into the streets on Thursday, prompting security forces to use batons to disperse them, activists said.
"Hundreds of people took part in several neighbourhoods of Aleppo," said Abdel Karim Rihawi, president of the Syrian League for Human Rights. "Security forces dispersed the protesters who were chanting slogans calling for freedom, using batons." According to AFP, Rihawi said that two people were reportedly wounded and that some pro-regime supporters held counter-demonstrations.
A Facebook group that has been the engine of the uprising had called on Syrians to rally on Thursday in Aleppo to demand President Bashar Assad's departure, and to rally nationwide as well on Friday. "The Aleppo Volcano. The people want the fall of the regime," pro-democracy activists said in a message posted by the Syrian Revolution 2011 on its Facebook page.
The group also called on people to rally after weekly prayers, branding July 1 "the Friday of departure" and saying in a message to Assad: "We don't love you... Go away, you and your party."
The opposition also declared the creation of a "national coordination committee" comprising exiled dissidents and opponents at home to push for democratic reforms. g support to the Syrian regime," a statement in Washington said, about a week after the European Union slapped penalties on the Islamic republic for involvement in the crackdown -- charges denied by Tehran.
Assad and six top aides have already been sanctioned by Washington, and the Syrian president is also on a list of 23 figures hit by an assets freeze and an EU travel ban.