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Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Recognising Protest and Human Rights

A protest last night in the Kafarsouseh section of the Syrian capital Damascus

See also Syria Analysis: "Peace" Only Buys Time for All Sides
Turkey Live Coverage (28 March): Any Outcome from Tehran Talks?
Wednesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A Peace Plan Accepted?

2130 GMT: Another update from our correspondent in Bahrain, "At the moment protests have blocked Budaiya Highway and police are tear-gassing, trying to reopen the roads."

2055 GMT: Syria isn't the only place with protests, and problems, this evening. An EA correspondent in Bahrain reports in:

"It's almost midnight and clashes still going on?!"

In fact, a quick check on Twitter and it appears that there are widespread reports of teargas and clashes between protesters and police. This picture was reportedly taken just a little while ago in Abu Saiba:

2050 GMT: After today's large protests, the people of Douma continued to host large protests well into the night:

1916 GMT: Another escalation in today's death toll, according to the LCCS:

"The number of martyrs in Syria today has risen to 51 including 6 children, 3 women and 6 were martyred under torture. In Damascus suburbs (Douma,Zabadany and Harasta), there were 11 martyrs, 15 in Homs, 10 in Idlib, 5 in Daraa,4 in Aleppo and 3 in each of Deir Ezzor and Hama."

However, as we've established below, we believe that at least 7 of those killed in the Damascus suburbs were not actually killed today, but their bodies have been counted today.

1900 GMT: This video, reportedly taken today in Al Qusair, south of Homs, shows an armored vehicle that, according to activists, was destroyed by the Free Syrian Army:

1850 GMT: More video from today's funeral in Aleppo. At the start of the video the protesters chant "أنتم إخواننا (You are our brothers)" at the regime troops.

1830 GMT: In Syria, things on the campus of Aleppo University continue to escalate. Today, police established roadblocks and even pulled people off of a bus and arrested them after a funeral for a student. Zilal, who has spent time in Aleppo, explains the videos below:

It was taken after the funeral procession of Anas Sammo in the Bab al-Hadid area of Aleppo. Anas Sammo was a student shot dead yesterday in a student anti government protest. There is also a video of yesterday that shows when he was shot dead [warning, graphic]. This is a video of the funeral.

1822 GMT: In Bahrain, there were protests tonight that went off without any violence, but there are more marches tonight, and the night protests are far more vulnerable.

1810 GMT: Activist Zilal says that residents of Harasta reported that a car bomb exploded today, killing at least 2, possibly 3, and wounding others. What's interesting, however, is that residents of that area reported that the district was closed off by security forces before the explosion, and the semi-official Addounia TV, often considered a government mouthpiece despite it's independent status, was present at the time of the explosions.

The entire point, according to Zilal, is so that the regime can then blame the bombings on "terrorists."

1759 GMT: According to the CFDPC, a network of activists with extensive contacts in and around Damascus, the reason for the large protests today in Douma was that the regime turned over the bodies of at least 7 people who had been killed before today, and a massive funeral protest was held. This video shows the crowd, though it is unclear if the "10 killed" in Douma and Harasta count these 7 names. It is also unclear if there was violence before or after this protest. An EA contact with the CFDPC was unaware of fresh violence in Douma today, but said that 13 were buried two days ago and these 7 were buried today.

This video was reportedly taken earlier today and shows a "student protest" in the Barzeh district of Damascus. The children in this video are very young.

1739 GMT: According to the activist network LCCS, 43 have been killed today by Syrian security forces:

10 martyrs in Damascus Suburbs [Douma and Harasta], 10 martyrs in Homs, 10 martyrs in Idlib, 5 martyrs in Daraa, 3 martyrs in each of DeirEzzor and Hama and 2 martyrs in Aleppo.

While most of these numbers follow patterns we've seen all week, the escalation of violence in Douma and Harasta, just east of Damascus, is noteworthy (map of the area).

There were also many protests reported across Damascus today, though only the protest in Midan appears to have been large. The video below was reportedly taken in Kiswah, south of Damascus:

1732 GMT: Activist Said Yousif Almuhafda has shared a gallery of pictures from the rally in Manama, Bahrain, in front of the UN building:


1721 GMT: Bahraini activists report that there was a sit-in protest today at the UN building. Protesters wore teargas masks and brought with them empty canisters of teargas and flash grenades.

1530 GMT: With the price of flour 200% more expensive than it was one year ago, unemployment high, inflation raging, violence in the streets, and the economy already stressed by refugees from Iraq, Syria is facing a "bread crisis." Now Lebanon reports:

Rounds of sanctions targeting Syria's banking system and oil exports have dealt a heavy blow to foreign exchange earnings and stoked the inflation rate, which official data says reached 15 percent between June and December.

"I can no longer buy any fruit or vegetables and we now eat bread and cereals," said Khalil, a 48-year-old doorkeeper who had to wait in line for 90 minutes to buy bread for his family in the Damascus suburb of Kanaker.

1518 GMT: The Guardian picks up another sign that the US and Turkey are dragging their feet on intervening militarily in Syria:

A military intervention against Syria is the "least desired option" for both Turkey and the United States, the US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone said today, according to the Turkish daily Hurriyet.

"Turkey and United States believe that a military intervention would be a last resort, a least desirable option to reach a solution in Syria," he said.

Last week defence analyst Tony Badran claimed US secretary of state Hillary Clinton had "emphatically dismissed" the idea of buffer zones during a meeting last month with Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

1438 GMT: There are reports of protests in the Midan district of Damascus. NPR's Ahmed al Omran shares this video:

1433 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees, a network of activists in Syria, 36 people have been killed so far today by regime forces:

10 martyrs in Damascus Suburbs [Douma and Harasta], 10 martyrs in Homs, 6 martyrs in Idlib, 5 martyrs in Daraa, 3 martyrs in Hama and 2 martyrs in Aleppo.

1412 GMT: The end of Iran's "engineer" saga? Iranian State media is reporting that 12 Iranian nationals, including the five "engineers" were freed:

The official IRNA news agency said: "Informed sources in Syria say 12 Iranian nationals have been released, seven of whom are of Iranian pilgrims and five are Iranian engineers."

Another outlet, Press TV, mentioned only the release of five engineers without giving a source for its report.

Those five were said by Iranian officials to have been engineers working on an electricity plant near the flashpoint city of Homs for Iran's Power Plant Projects Management Company, or Mapna, when they were taken in late December.

The engineers became famous (and EA Worldview's coverage was quoted in Time Magazine, Al Jazeera, and many other news outlets) when the Free Syrian Army's infamous "Al Farouk Brigade" reportedly captured the men and got a video "confession" that the men were really Iranian snipers killing civilians. However, it quickly appeared as though these men were not soldiers, and their confession had been coerced. Last week Human Rights Watch mentioned the incident, which I responded to here.

It's worth remembering, as was mentioned above, that this is not the first time these men have reportedly been released.

1358 GMT: There are still plenty of issues to be resolved in Libya. The political superstructure is still not in place, and many militias that were the key to overthrowing Qaddafi are still looking for a permanent role in the country. Sometimes, the anecdotal evidence speaks loudly. Evan Hill reports from Tripoli:

1350 GMT: Activists in Homs have posted several videos of the Al-Sheikh Qasim Al-Atasi mosque in the center of Homs, reportedly heavily shelled by regime forces over the last several days.

1335 GMT: James Miller takes over, with thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through to the afternoon. Time to catch up.

Remember all that talk about insurgency?

1120 GMT: Syrian authorities have accused insurgents of targeting “the national expertise and intellectuals”, as State news agency SANA reported that two Army colonels were shot to death in Aleppo at a crossroads as they drove to work.

The claim follows reports on Wednesday that a Syrian Air Force brigadier general was assassinated.

SANA also reported that five kidnapped troops were freed in Jerjanaz in Idlib Province in a raid on "terrorist groups".

0747 GMT: Souad Mekhennet reports for The New York Times from the University of Bahrain:

Underlying the apparent normality, there is tension and distrust: Four female students looked around for a place to sit and talk the other day, but not just anywhere. “Don’t sit at that table,” said Zehra, who asked not to be identified further. “We are surrounded by students from the other side.”

Zehra and her friends are among about 500 mainly Shiite students who were expelled from the university last year after clashes between pro- and anti-government demonstrators. According to the university’s president, Ebrahim Mohammed Janahi, the rioting caused $5 million in damage.

By “the other side,” Zehra means the Sunni students. Duaa, a 22-year-old Shiite student who did not want to give her family name, said: “There is no trust anymore between them and us. We attend classes together, but there is no interaction.”...

Most of the expelled students have been allowed to re-enroll after signing a document declaring that they would not protest at the university again: But seven have been prosecuted on charges arising from the clashes, six receiving prison sentences of 15 years and one an 18-year term, with all of them being fined a total of 350,000 dinars, or about $928,000, according to parents and Bahraini human rights groups.

In interviews with 25 students from both sides who were at the university during the clashes, each accused the other side of starting the violence.

0732 GMT: In Egypt, the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has pardoned Ayman Nour, opening the way for the activist to run for President.

Nour was sentenced to five years in jail for allegedly forging signatures on party documents in 2005 when he stood against President Hosni Mubarak in an election. At the time, Nour called the sentence a political punishment for his decision to challenge Mubarak.

Nour was freed on health grounds after nearly four years. He said after Mubarak's fall last year that he would stand for President.

0722 GMT: The spokesman for Kofi Annan has denied that the United Nations envoy is visiting Iran next week for talks on the Syrian crisis. Ahmad Fawzi said Annan will speak to the UN Security Council instead, in a video conference from Geneva on Monday.

Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi told the media earlier on Wednesday, “Kofi Annan will travel to Tehran next week, probably Monday.”

0647 GMT: And in contrast to the regime's efforts, a different kind of publicity for the kingdom on Wednesday:

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)...welcomed the much delayed release by a Bahraini court of forensic medical documentation of eight medics who were tortured in detention. Today during the continuing trial of 20 health workers who are charged as alleged backers of pro-democracy protests, the court released medical evaluations of eight medics. Eighteen medics allege torture while in detention.

“We are pleased to hear that the Bahraini court heeded our calls for the release of these important medical evaluations that prove torture. However, this decision is only a small victory for some of the medics and their families. If the court is serious about guaranteeing fair trials for all medics, they must immediately provide the remaining ten medics access to independent forensic examinations,” said Richard Sollom, Deputy Director at PHR.

0645 GMT: In contrast to the award presented to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights last night in London, we offer the latest publicity from the regime's Bahrain News Agency. There is, for example, this note:

Bahrain Ambassador to the US Huda Nonoo highlighted the challenges which confronted Bahrain last year. In a function hosted at the Washington-based embassy, she outlined the reform steps undertaken by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa in managing the crisis with great wisdom, competence and statesmanship.

A film documenting objectively the events which happened in Bahrain in February 2011 was also shown.

Far more mysterious, however, is this report:

A top EU official today hailed the positive developments in Bahrain. This came as the GCC and EU political dialogue experts held their meeting in Brussels, Belgium. The head of the EU side lauded the positive steps undertaken in the Kingdom. He also reaffirmed the EU backing for the reform steps initiated by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa to implement the recommendations cited in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) Report.

Who is this "top EU official" applauding the regime's "sweeping and broad" reforms", as King Hamad described them last week? The press release does not say.

0625 GMT: Despite Wednesday's chatter about the Assad regime's acceptance of a "peace plan" from United Nations envoy Kofi Annan, the shelling of Syrian cities continued --- claimed footage of a burning building in the centre of Homs last night:

0620 GMT: We begin with last night's Freedom of Expression Awards in London, presented by Index on Censorship, where the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights won in the Advocacy category (see separate video). Index on Censorship noted:

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has played a crucial role in documenting human rights violations, political repression and torture in the gulf kingdom. Despite efforts to silence and discredit it, the BCHR has kept international attention on the brutal government crackdown that began last February. It has prevented the Bahrain government from whitewashing its international image, and at times when news media were severely restricted and foreign journalists barred, it acted as a crucial source of alternative news.

Former BCHR president Abdulhady Al Khawaja is one of eight activists serving life sentences for peacefully protesting at the now-demolished Pearl Roundabout. Like many other activists he claims he has been tortured in prison. It is widely reported that BCHR employees regularly experience threats, violence and harassment. In January 2012, BCHR president Nabeel Rajab was severely beaten by security forces while peacefully protesting.

Meanwhile in Syria, protest and human rights were on the streets in a series of night demonstrations. A gathering in the Damascus suburb of Douma:

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