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Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Just Another Protest Friday?

Opening of "A Taste of Freedom" ice cream shop in Binnish in Syria

See also Syria Snap Analysis: Is the US Preparing for Intervention?
Syria Wired: The Latest from Social Media and EA's Readers
Thursday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Is Hunger Striker Alkhawaja Still Alive?
Turkey Live Coverage (26 April): From the Kurdish Language to Iranian Banks

1757 GMT: Amid sounds of gunfire, protesters rush to rescue a man who has been shot, reportedly in the Duf al-Shawk section of the Syrian capital Damascus today:

1631 GMT: This morning, we noted an apparent slip by the regime-linked Gulf Daily News about Day 79 of the hunger strike of detained activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja --- in its haste to establish that he was well and "in high spirits", it tipped off that the authorities might now be force-feeding Alkhawaja.

Mike Diboll, a blogger who worked at the University of Bahrain, takes up the story:

[Alicia de Haldevang of the Gulf Daily News] takes a strong interest in his nutrition, mentioning by name “Ensure”, the nutritional drink that Abdulhadi is supposed to be “taking”:

At the beginning of her piece, she says that he is “drinking” the supplement, but in paragraph five he is “taking” it. “Taking” it in what sense? Perhaps this image of the force feeding kit used against Guantanamo Bay hunger strikers can help answer the question of exactly how Abdulhadi is “taking” Ensure. Below is a photograph of a force feeding kit used at Guantanamo Bay:

And another twist --- Alicia de Haldevang, the Gulf Daily News reporter, was taken to task by Alkhawaja's wife over the story until she said, "I believe you should have access to your husband+he shld be released. Pls don't think that I follow GDN policy in my personal beliefs." Now she appears to be none too happy with the regime for putting her in this position:

1631 GMT: Bahrain. Today there have been several protests across the small island nation. A group of women protested outside the Ministry of Interior, demanding the release of hunger-striker Abdulhadi AlKhawaja. At the end of the clip, the poice chase the women, and activists report that arrests have been made:

1606 GMT: Libya. An explosion rocked Benghazi early this morning as a bomb blast tore holes through a courthouse, wounding at least four people:

A security official said three explosive devices were planted near a courthouse wall. The blasts shattered windows of a nearby hospital, wounding one person inside.

The explosion left gaping holes on the side of the courthouse in the centre of Benghazi, and shattered the windows of the building as well as a nearby office block.

However, the AP (citing Libyan state TV, LANA) reports that there were three blasts:

The attack came hours after a failed prison break in Benghazi during which prisoners and guards exchanged gunfire. The shooting killed three prisoners and three guards.

Even stranger news - late on Thursday, the Associated Press ran a story that the Libyan government had dissolved its cabinet:

Libya’s interim ruling council has fired the nation’s Cabinet just five months after it took office, citing incompetence, two senior officials said Thursday, just two months before the country’s first national election.

National Transitional Council official Fathi Baja told The Associated Press that 65 of the NTC’s 72-members approved a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib in a meeting Wednesday.

However, today the head of the NTC denied those reports:

"The council has made no decision about changing the government and we will not make any decisions about a government reshuffle until the beginning of next week," Mustafa Abdel Jalil told Reuters by phone.

What does it all mean? The NTC has had many struggles unifying the country, overcoming tribal divisions, integrating the armed militias that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi, and generally making progress since the fall of the former government. With elections approaching, there are internal struggles since Mustafa Abdel Jalil has indicated that he is not willing to be Prime Minister. Add to these problems the fact that Libya is struggling to repair the damage of a costly and deadly civil war, as well as the widespread economic factors that fueled the uprising in the first place, and the NTC has had few successes in overcoming these obstacles.

Libya is scheduled to hold elections in June.

1539 GMT: Syria. The big story is the size of the protests. The size of the protests are once again large and impressive, as well as widespread, indicating that the protest movement has not lost any steam in recent weeks - the opposite, it appears to still be growing. We've simply received too many great videos to post them all, but beyond what we have already posted there have been very large protests in Deir Ez Zor, Hama, Latakia, many suburbs of Daraa and Idlib, Al Rastan (north of Homs - a surprise that the internet is working well enough to get any info out of that place), and beyond.

However, there are also large protests in Aleppo and parts of Damascus, protests which have our strong attention.

This video was taken in a major mosque in the central Midan district of Damascus:

Al Kadam district, Damascus:

Jobar, Damascus:

The Grand Mosque in the Kafer Souseh district of Damascus, the heart of the capital.

The Saladin district of Aleppo:

And this video was reportedly taken near a key roundabout in eastern Aleppo:

1416 GMT: Syria. Despite the constant threat of regime retaliation and shelling, large crowds also reportedly protested today in Homs. This video was taken in the El Waer district:

According to sources, large crowds also gathered in Qusair, south of Homs. This video was posted by Ugarit News:

1409 GMT: Syria. Think Daraa is impressive? You should see Idlib. There are reports of very large demonstrations across the northern province. This is Ma'arrat al Nouman:

Kafar Owaid:

Khan Sheikoun:

1339 GMT: Syria. There are many reports of large protests across Syria. In Daraa alone, the Shaam News Network reports protests in more than 80 locations.

This video shows a rally in Tafas, Daraa:

And this video was reportedly taken today in Inkhil, Daraa:

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through to the afternoon.

1240 GMT: Syria. A massive rally in Ma'arat Numan in northwest Syria:

And Binnish:

1222 GMT: Syrian military moving through the Damascus suburb of Saqba:

A protest today in Kafarsita in Hama Province in Syria:

1213 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage of Bahraini police, including one firing a shotgun, in pursuit of protesters on Thursday night:

1208 GMT: Jordan. The Guardian, drawing from The Jordan Times summarises the development of Prime Minister Awn al-Khasawneh's resignation, reportedly in frustration at the slow pace of reform and obstructions from the royal court.

King Abdullah, in his letter accepting the resignation, King Abdullah challenges al-Khasawneh by blaiming the Government's performance:

Recently, I was surprised by your insistence that there is no need to extend the ordinary session of parliament, and to postpone the start of the extraordinary session by one month, as well as by the fact that you wanted to deal with a set of draft laws that are not a priority at this stage....

During the past months, I have followed the work of the government in various fields, hoping that the government would be more efficient and active in finalising these laws, in cooperation with the lower house, but a slow pace continued to prevail.

We do not have the luxury of time, nor do we have the option to postpone what we committed ourselves to do and promised our honourable people to achieve.

1200 GMT: Syria. Back from a media break, speaking to the BBC about Syria, to find that Syrian State TV is claiming that an explosion in central Damascus has killed nine people and wounded dozens. The "terrorist suicide bombing" was in the al-Meidan quarter, near Zein al-Abidin Mosque and Aisha School.

0916 GMT: Syria. A demonstration this morning in the Asali section of the Syrian capital Damascus:

0833 GMT: Yesterday's funeral procession in Bilad Qadeem Bahrain for activist Salah Abbas Habib, allegedly slain by security forces last weekend:

Footage has also been posted of last night's candle-lit march.

0719 GMT: Bahrain. Did the regime's media just make an accidential admission about the treatment of hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja (see 0658 GMT)? Activist Wafi Al-Majed picks up on "for the last two days [Alkhawaja] has been taking the nutritional drink Ensure":

0658 GMT: Bahrain. In Bahrain, detained human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is on Day 79 of his hunger strike. His family and lawyer have not been allowed to see him in the military hospital for the past four days, raising fears that he has died or is near death.

The regime-linked Gulf Daily News assures, however, that all is well:

HIGH-PROFILE prisoner Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who allegedly enters the 79th day of a hunger strike today, has been drinking a nutritional supplement for the past two days and has been receiving fluids intravenously throughout his protest, well-placed sources told the GDN yesterday.

He was among 21 men convicted by the National Safety Court in connection with a high-profile case related to last year's unrest and was sentenced to life in jail. Charges included seeking to overthrow the regime and plotting hostile acts against the nation with a foreign terrorist organisation....

Sources told the GDN yesterday that he was actually in "high spirits", had been taking the nutritional drink Ensure for the past two days and confirmed he was still at the hospital....

"He has never stopped taking fluids, although nurses did say he tried to stop taking water two days ago," said the source.

"He has lost at least 11kg to 12kg, but he is not skeletal. His muscle mass is still there, but his fat mass has definitely gone.

"His skin is very tight so it is difficult when searching for a vein for a needle, but for the last two days he has been taking the nutritional drink Ensure.

"Reports that he has gone missing are not true --- and I saw him coming out of the bathroom where he was in high spirits."

0650 GMT: Yemen. Al Jazeera English reports on the Obama Administration's authorisation of an expansion of drone strike in Yemen:

0610 GMT: Syria. Few Fridays in Syria have been "normal" since March 2011, but we will be looking for the distinctive beyond the expected series of marches and protests across the country.

The Assad regime continues to put pressure on cities, towns, and Damascus suburbs with raids, troop occupations, and shelling --- another 33 people reportedly died on Thursday at the hands of the security forces --- but the pattern indicates that they are have difficulties maintaining a long-term pacification. There was even a small but notable display of resistance last night when protesters set a fire, using Molotov cocktails, across a highway in the Syrian capital.

Expect more signs of defiance today. How many and how large? That is what we will be trying to establish.

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