Thousands mourn dead as Syrian premier appointed

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BEIRUT | Thousands of Syrians marched through a Damascus suburb Sunday in funerals for those killed in new protests, as the president appointed a former agriculture minister to form a new government as part of limited gestures to those calling for sweeping political change.

Human rights groups and activists say at least 10 people were killed during protests Friday in Douma, just outside the Syrian capital, and in nearby areas.

On Sunday, a witness told the Associated Press thousands of people gathered for prayers before the funeral of eight of the victims at Douma’s Grand Mosque, which was at the center of Friday’s protests.

The crowds shouted “We want freedom” and “Douma and Daraa, one hand,” in a reference to a drought-stricken and impoverished city in the south from where Syria’s protests began on March 18.

“It looks like all of Douma is out on the streets today,” said the witness, speaking by telephone on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

He said the two other people killed in areas near Douma also were buried Sunday. All the coffins were draped with Syrian flags, he added.

The witness said there was no sign of security forces in Douma on Sunday, adding that mourning tents for receiving condolences were set up in the city later.

The violence in Douma on Friday was some of the worst seen in two weeks of bloody protests in Syria, during which at least 80 people have died, according to rights groups.

Activists said protesters had come under attack by security forces as they left the Grand Mosque chanting slogans for freedom. The troops hit people with clubs and threw stones before firing tear gas and finally live ammunition.

Authorities blamed Friday’s bloodshed on “armed gangs,” and President Bashar Assad has described the unrest as a foreign-influenced conspiracy against Syria.

Mr. Assad, facing the biggest challenge yet to his 11-year rule, has made a series of overtures that protesters say do not satisfy their demands for real change.

The president sacked his government last week in answer to growing cries for reform in Syria, one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. On Thursday, he set up committees to look into the deaths of civilians during two weeks of unrest and replacing decades-old state-of-emergency laws.

On Sunday, he appointed former Agriculture Minister Adel Safar to form a new government. Mr. Safar is seen as a respectable figure in a government that many had accused of corruption.

The 58-year-old Mr. Safar holds a doctorate in agricultural sciences from a French polytechnic center and was the dean of Damascus University’s agricultural faculty from 1997 to 2000. He also heads the Arab Center for Dry and Arid Areas.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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