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Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Will the Regime Challenge the Protests?

Mass demonstration last night in Freedom Square in Deir Ez Zor, Syria

1919 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, they have been able to confirm the deaths of 13 so far today:

3 martyrs were documented in Hama as a result of sporadic gunfire at the protesters, 2 martyrs in each of Daraa and Aleppo as a result of sporadic gunfire at protesters. Also, 2 martyrs were documented in Idlib and one of corpses was un-identified. 2 martyrs in Homs in a random shelling at some neighborhoods. 1 martyr in Daraya, Damascus suburbs, in a sporadic gunfire by security forces at the protesters and 1 martyr in Hasaka, a defected recruit who was executed.

Homs, and several surrounding towns, were heavily shelled once again today. In this video, a building burns as heavy gunfire fills the background in Qosour:

Ahmed Al Omran provides this video, a wider view of the Khalidiya district of Homs:

1911 GMT: According to Bahrain activists, a 15 year old boy was shot by bird-pellets fired by police today in Salmabad. The activists also report that Muhammad Ahmed is in critical condition:

1905 GMT: Turning to Bahrain, this video confirms eyewitness reports we heard earlier today, that the police actually fired teargas into the cemetery in Salmabad while mourners tried to bury the body of citizen journalist Ahmed Imsaeel:

After the teargas was fired, police and mourners clashed with police officers. Activists have posted a photo gallery of more than 30 pictures from today's clashes in Salmabad, where things started wtih an ordertly funeral procession and ended in chaos:

1846 GMT: Al Arabiya tours the town of Taftanaz, a strategically important town northwest of Binnish in Idlib Province:

1824 GMT: A few more select videos of some of the larger protests. This video was taken earlier today in Binnish, Idlib, a large crowd for a town that has been savagely ravaged by Assad military in recent weeks and months:

And this video was taken in Mia'rbah, in Daraa province, a relatively small town with a large presence of opposition.

1808 GMT: Reuters, citing no sources for most of their article and misquoting sources for the rest, writes that 4 have died (our sources say that number is perhaps in the 20-30 range) and protests have been "muted" across Syria.

In other news, NPR's Andy Carvin, who pays attention to the stories he reports, posts this video of a "muted" protest in Douma, which Reuters might be interested to know is just outside the capital, Damascus:

1756 GMT: More evidence that the "ceasefire" hasn't come to fruition:

Interestingly, Raqqah is a city that did not have a strong opposition presence only a few months ago, but is now a growing stronghold of dissent, perhaps adding evidence to the thesis that today's gunfire is happening in some of Assad's most sensitive areas, areas where a strong opposition is an existential threat to the regime.

Also, this video shows more violence in Aleppo, Assad's only real stronghold (though a slipping one), and the largest city in Syria.

1538 GMT: For every story that the media has paid attention to over the last 15+ months of uprisings, there are many that have been ignored. One such story is the opposition movement in Kuwait.

A member of Bedoon community in Kuwait, an underrepresented and stateless minority, was arrested, and reportedly tortured, for allegedly voicing his discontent. 24 year old Khaled Al-Enizi was arrested and accused of created a fake Twitter account for a Kuwaiti minister and "insulting" the Amir of Kuwait. While in prison, Al-Enizi claims that he was tortured.

According to Bedoon Rights, Khaled was insulted and threatened with rape during interrogation. The police used the “grilling” torture method in which a person gets held up above fire. Khaled’s arm was severely harmed and they had to take him to the hospital where the doctor said that he is fine. He was taken back to be tortured. The police used another method of torture against him called “the room of cooling the dead” that is conducted by telling the victim that a fridge is made for the dead and then put him in it until he confesses.

The State Security police made Khaled stand on one foot as he gets beaten and when he told them it was his weak foot, they hit it harder. They wet him with water and threatened to use electricity to shock his body if he does not confess. As the torture was going, they noticed that the twitter account they accused him of running was actually posting tweets while he’s in custody and thus decided to end the torture and charge him with the regular illegal protesting charges like the other detained protesters. He was bailed out on April the 2nd for 200 Kuwaiti Dinars and will go on trial for illegal protesting.

1530 GMT: Ma'arat al Nouman is a major hub in Idlib province, Syria. It has been in the news a lot recently because it has been targeted by the Syrian military in recent weeks. However, today it is host to an extremely large, jubilant, and defiant protest for a town of its size:

1523 GMT: Many activists in Bahrain are reporting the use of an unexplained gas, fired by police at funeral mourners today:

1517 GMT: Four UN Human Rights experts have called on the government of Bahrain to immediately release renowned activist Abdulhadi AlKhawaja:

“I am seriously concerned that Mr. Al-Khawaja’s trial and sentence are linked to his legitimate work to promote human rights in Bahrain,” said Margaret Sekaggya, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. “This case is sadly emblematic of the overall treatment of human rights defenders in Bahrain.”

Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association expressed similar concerns about Mr. Al-Khawaja’s detention being directly linked to his human rights activities in the context of the on-going protests in Bahrain.

“Any restriction to the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly must be proportional and must be closely reviewed with respect to its necessity and reasonableness,” Mr. Kiai.

“Restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly on the grounds of national security should not be used to suppress the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and activists.”

Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, expressed grave concern about the trial of Al-Khawaja and other human rights defenders who were collectively tried before a military court despite being civilians. It is alleged that the group was held for a significant period of time in incommunicado detention before being allowed to seek legal counsel. Allegations that the defendants made confessions under duress have reportedly not been investigated and evidence obtained under torture was reportedly not excluded from the trial – in contravention of international law.

“The lack of due process which was alleged during the trials must be addressed by the court where his case is currently under review,” Ms. Knaul stated.

The Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez, added that: “The Government of Bahrain has failed to take necessary measures to ensure the physical and mental integrity of Mr. Al-Khawaja in accordance with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.”

1503 GMT: In Syria, if it were not for the "ceasefire" the main headline would be two words - Massive Protests.

As the day is going on, we're seeing video evidence that the crowds got larger in many areas. This video was reportedly taken today in Al Harak, in Daraa province, at a protest that is being described by EA sources as "absolutely massive."

And this video was reportedly taken in the As-Sukkari district of Aleppo:

The violence in Syria was the regime's response to large protests, and despite the violence the protests have never subsided. If the violence does decrease, and the crowds once again reach pre-violence levels, how will the Assad regime respond?

We've likely already seen the answer, as reports of violence, killings, and arrests continue to pour in.

1449 GMT: Reportedly taken in Bahrain today, this video shows the size of part of the crowd:

However, that funeral was disrupted by police by teargas - and reportedly birdshot:

1442 GMT: France's president has once again called for foreign intervention in Syria:

"I firmly believe the international community should live up to its responsibilities and create the conditions for humanitarian corridors so that these poor people who are being massacred can escape a dictator," President Nicolas Sarkozy told news TV channel i>tele.

Expressing doubt about Assad's commitment to the truce, Sarkozy added: "I do not believe Bashar al-Assad is sincere. Sadly I do not believe this ceasefire," he said.

1438 GMT: The Syrian regime is, of course, already claiming that the opposition broke the ceasefire. The Guardian reports:

The Syrian state news agency, Sana, is reporting that an officer has been killed in Hama by an "armed group", a term usually used by the Syrian government to describe opposition fighters. This too would represent a breach of the ceasefire.

1430 GMT: Meanwhile, in Syria, a few Twitter accounts pick up some evidence that the so-called ceasefire is not going well:

According to the LCCS, and other sources, the Qusour, Qarabes, and Khalidiya neighborhoods of Homs have once again been heavily shelled by Assad's military.

And now we see a video of gunfire in Aleppo, which corresponds to other reports we've received today:

1421 GMT: This video was shared by several contacts whom EA trusts. It was uploaded today, and claims to show police chasing down funeral mourners and shooting teargas (and possibly using flash grenades) at close distance today.

1412 GMT: We're hearing from more sources that the police in Bahrain have used a heavy amount of teargas. These people in this video are part of the funeral procession for citizen journalist Ahmed Isameel:

Meanwhile, activists (and pictures) tell the same story - many thousands of people showed up today to participate in the funeral:

1405 GMT: Just in the last few minutes, Bahraini activists are reporting that the funeral procession for Ahmed Ismael has been disrupted by police:

1401 GMT: The situation in Bahrain is very tense today, as large crowds gathered for Friday protests, and for the funeral of a high-profile activist in Sanabis:

1356 GMT: After more than a thousand people were killed in the last 10 days in Syria, today's headlines may appear as though the conflict in Syria has slowed and the ceasefire is largely holding. However, we're also seeing another development - large protests growing in sensitive areas across the country. In and around Damascus we've already posted some videos. This one, posted by the CFDPC, was reportedly taken in Yabroud, a town on the important (and often embattled) road between Damascus and Homs:

This video was reportedly taken outside a mosque in the Midan District of Damascus:

And this video shows a truly massive protest in Dumayr, an important suburb east of Damascus:

If the ceasefire holds, will protests grow even larger? If protests continue to grow, wil lthe ceasefire hold?

Of course, if you're in Idlib province, or Homs, or some other areas that have reportedly been attacked today, the "ceasefire" may be a relative term.

1335 GMT: Activists have been sharing this video, reportedly taken in Daraa after security forces opened fire at a crowd outside a mosque:

1328 GMT: According to the video, posted by the Sham News Network, this man was reportedly injured (we're not sure how) in the Ansari area of Aleppo:

There are additional reports of violence in Aleppo - we are trying to hunt the reports down.

1325 GMT: The President of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, has released a statement reaffirming the SNC's commitment to the UN peace plan, but expressing doubt that Syrian President Bashar al Assad is interested in complying.

Ghalioun, in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV, called for observers to be quickly sent to Syria. He also said "we are committed to Mr. Annan's ceasefire plan" re-iterating that the next step should be to allow people to express themselves democratically and to allow refugees safe passage home, as well as allowing all humanitarian and media reporters free access to all areas in the country.

Along the same lines, Ghalioun called for all government armed forces to be completely withdrawn from all cities, saying "It is obvious that there is no confidence in this regime since the first day" and emphasizing that "Demonstrations in Syria never stopped, not before Mr. Annan's plan and not after: The Syrian Revolution is moving forward". He concluded by saying, "The regime will never cease to use force and they will fire at civilians again and again".

1319 GMT: As of 10 minutes ago, the LCCS reports that 11 people have been killed by Assad forces today,

3 martyrs in Daraa from random gunfire at demonstrators, 2 martyrs in Hamad from random gunfire at demonstrators, 2 martyrs in Idlib (an unidentified corpse was found), 2 martyrs in Aleppo from random gunfire at demonstrators, a martyr in Daraya in Damascus Suburbs from random gunfire at demonstrators, and a martyr in Hassakeh; who is a defected soldier that was executed.

However, that number appear to already be obsolete. According to LCCS, 4 people have been killed in Kansafra village, in the Jabal Zawiyah areas of Idlib.

1300 GMT: The news feed from Syria today is daunting - nearly every post from opposition websites in the last hour talk about gunfire near protests or mosques all over the country. The email we have just received from the LCCS tells the story:

"Thirty-one areas, until the moment, witnessed a breach of Annan's initiative by opening fire directly at peaceful demonstrators by the regime's forces, which resulted in the falling of several martyrs. The areas that witnessed the gunfire are: Daraa: Nawa-Daraa Al-Balad-Inkhel-Ibtee-Tareeq Al-Sad, Idlib: Salqein-Jes Al-shughour-Rami-Kherbet Al-Jouz-Habeit, Hama: Bab Qabli Neighborhood-Hameedieh-Tareeq Halab-Aleelat-Qusour-Karnaz-Jouret Al-Sheyah, Lattakia: Helfaya-Bardej, Aleppo: Bab-Sekary-Maree-Ard Al-Hamra, Homs: Qarabes-Ghouta-Waer-Old Homs-Slaibeh, Damascus and its Suburbs: Naher Aisha-Assali-Jobar-Daraya-Kafasouseh-Mouadamiyeh-Harasta-Wadi Barada-Douma-Housh Arab-Qaboun."

There are so many reports of protests being shot at it's hard to sort them all. Meanwhile, we have also received dozens of emails of large protests across the country. This video reportedly shows a protest at a mosque in the important Kafer Souseh district in Damascus:

Dozens protest in the Hajar al Aswad district of Damascus, a dangerous activity as the area is routinely raided by security forces:

Then there are some much larger protests, including the first one below in Khattab, just outside Hama. The second is in Soran, just north of Hama:

1209 GMT: James Miller takes over for Scott Lucas, with thanks for getting us started today.

Syrian activists continue to report that the ceasefire has failed. According to Hama activist Mousab Alhamadee, who spoke with the Guardian via Skype today, the crackdown has only slowed, not stopped, after weeks of escalation. Mousab reports that another protest that took place today in Hama was fired on by security forces today.

"We tried to reach again to our main quarter, our main square in Hama, al-Asi square. There were lots of checkpoints and even there were reinforcements on the checkpoints. In spite of all of that all protesters tried to gather in this square so troops opened fire on us and till now one of my colleagues [was] killed and we don't know the exact number of the wounded ...

"Here on the ground there isn't any ceasefire from the side of the regime.. There is a kind of slowdown. They are just slowing down. They are just slowing the number of people they usually kill. Instead of killing 100 for example, they just kill 20 or 30 now. That's the difference."

Mousab goes on to say that sending "monitors" will not help: "We want people to come and defend us."

1135 GMT: A large protest in Qamishli in northeast Syria today:

1129 GMT: Friday Prayers in Cairo's Tahrir Square today:

Leading political factions, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have called for a demonstration of unity today amidst tensions over the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and issues as the attempted Presidential candidacy of Omar Suleiman, head of intelligence and then Vice President in the Mubarak regime. One slogan in Tahrir today is "Hand in hand we defend our revolution, until we are through with them".

1107 GMT: The dispute over the trial of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, The International Criminal Court prosecutor asked judges on Thursday to report Libyato the U.N. Security Council over its failure to extradite Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the late Libyan leader, continues --- International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has asked a panel of judges to reject an appeal filed by Libya on Tuesday, requesting more time to transfer Saif-al Islam to the Netherlands.

“The fact that the Libyan authorities have filed a request for leave to appeal does not exempt them from compliance with the chamber’s decision,” the prosecutor said. “ICC decisions are binding until such time as they are reversed, or suspended.”

Ahmed al-Jehani, the lawyer who liaises between the Libyan government and the ICC, said on Wednesday that the militia who captured and hold Saif al-Islam in a secret prison in Zintan want him tried locally. Libya’s government wants to transfer Saif al-Islam to Tripoli and try him there rather than transferring him to the ICC.

1100 GMT: The Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria report that three people have died in conflict today: one each in Hama, Hasakeh, and Idlib.

1045 GMT: We are getting numerous videos of protests across Syria --- this demonstration was in the Arbeen section of Damascus:

0920 GMT: Sheikh Isa Qassim, the leading Shia cleric in Bahrain, has delivered a Friday Prayer in which he asserted, "We have been asking to reject all kind of violence and secterianism (but) the media is accusing us of provoking violence."

Qassim continued with a question for the regime, "Is it religious to keep hundreds in prison for just expressing their opinion?"

Qassim specifically referred to Hassan Mushaimaa, the leader of the Haq society, reportedly suffering from cancer in prison, and detained activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, on Day 65 of his hunger strike: "We hold the government responsible for the lives of both Mushaimaa and Alkhawaja."

0910 GMT: Another soundbite from Formula 1 head Bernie Ecclestone as auto racing's FIA decided to proceed with the Bahrain Grand Prix on 20-22 April

There's nothing happening [in Bahrain]. I know people that live there and it's all very quiet and peaceful....

I'm happy that our position is quite clear. We don't get involved in politics in a country....They will sort out their internal problems [in Bahrain], I'm quite sure.

0900 GMT: News is limited from Syria so far, but activists have reported heightened regime security, including troops, snipers, and armoured vehicles, in Daraa Province and the Damascus suburbs.

0615 GMT: Formula 1's governing body FIA has confirmed the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead on 20-22 April.

The decision was issued after Formula 1 head Bernie Ecclestone, who met F1 teams this morning, said it was a "200%" certainty that the race would be held.

The FIA said it was "satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place for the running of a Formula 1 world championship event". It claimed a "fact-finding mission" undertaken by the organisation's president, Jean Todt, had met with "a large number of decision-makers and opinion formers": "All expressed their wish for the grand prix to go ahead in 2012 and since then the FIA has kept in close touch with all these stakeholders."

The statement assured, "Away from the public eye, the FIA has received regular security briefings from the most senior diplomatic officials based in the Kingdom, as well as from other independent experts."

0415 GMT: Claimed footage from Nuwaidrat in Bahrain on Tuesday of regime supporters, backed by police, trashing one of the supermarkets of a prominent Shia businessman:

0340 GMT: And so in Syria, we move from one question --- partially answered --- to others.

On Thursday, the deadline for a cease-fire, there was a general reduction in violence across the country. However, 22 people still died --- with 15 bodies found from Sunday's "massacre" in the Deir Baalba section of Homs --- and there was little evidence that regime forces were pulling back from their occupation of cities, towns, and villages.

On Friday, there will be a surge in protests against President Assad. Indeed, there already has been, as people turned on the streets yesterday to express resistance, tinged with some relief at the semi-pause in hostilities.

Now does the regime allow those protests to go unchallenged, given that they can lead to a de facto occupation by the opposition of areas that Assad would like to claim are under his control?

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