THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Syrian forces deployed in restive border towns

A Libyan man yesterday mourned a rebel fighter killed during recent fighting near the eastern oil city of Brega. A Libyan man yesterday mourned a rebel fighter killed during recent fighting near the eastern oil city of Brega. (Sergey Ponomarev/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / July 18, 2011

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Syrian troops flown in on helicopters descended on an eastern town near the Iraqi border yesterday where scores of soldiers defected to join the four-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad, witnesses and activists said.

Assad has unleashed military and security forces on restive towns across the country to crush the unrest, but the uprising has been building steadily.

Friday saw the largest protests yet with hundreds of thousands turning out nationwide to challenge the president’s rule. About 30 people were killed over the weekend and authorities rounded up more than 500.

Yesterday, residents in the eastern town of al-Boukamal said about 150 soldiers arrived in helicopters, but there were no immediate reports of violence. The progovernment Al-Watan newspaper reported that a military operation in the town was imminent.

Activists reported that dozens of soldiers defected and joined protesters in al-Boukamal late Saturday. The crowds chanted “the people and the army are one!’’ - echoing the rallying cries heard during Egypt’s revolution.

Syrian troops also stormed a town near the Lebanese border yesterday. The Local Coordinating Committees said about 2,000 military and security forces moved into Zabadani, 25 miles northwest of Damascus.

The military defections were reported by Syria-based human rights activist Mustafa Osso and Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the coordination committees, which help organize and track the protests. Both cited witnesses on the ground to back up the defection reports.

There have been previous reports of army defections, although it is difficult to gauge how widespread they are. Assad, and his father who ruled before him, stacked key military posts with members of their minority Alawite sect.

Yemen

Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets across the country yesterday to protest the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the 33d anniversary of his rule.

The demonstrations were staged a day after opposition leaders announced the formation of a shadow government in a move to coordinate the fight to oust Saleh and his supporters.

The new group seeks to create a unified leadership for the demonstrators who have filled public squares across Yemen for five months.

But it was unclear how the group planned to assert authority and it was unlikely to significantly increase pressure on Saleh. The embattled president clung to power even after he traveled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment of wounds sustained in an assassination attempt more than a month ago.

Libya

For three days running, the government of Moammar Khadafy has sponsored carnival-like rallies at which thousands of supporters cheered as the leader’s defiant words boomed from massive speakers.

As NATO hammers away at the Libyan leader’s defenses and the United States and its allies throw their support behind the rebels, Khadafy is trying to boost morale in what is left of his nation and show his people he is still strong and his opponents are few.

Bolstering that image is all the more pressing after the United States and more than 30 nations recognized Khadafy enemies during a meeting Friday in Istanbul, potentially freeing up billions in frozen oil money that could be put into rebel hands.

NATO jets destroyed a military storage facility and other targets in Tripoli’s eastern outskirts early yesterday, and rebel attacks on the eastern oil city of Brega stretched into their fourth day, with reports of pitched battles in the residential areas.

Bahrain

Bahrain’s biggest Shi’ite party pulled out of the US-backed talks with the Gulf kingdom’s Sunni rulers, claiming the government was not serious about addressing Shi’ite demands for greater rights and political freedoms.

Washington has strongly pushed for dialogue in the strategic island nation, home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The protests that began in February have been the gravest challenge to any Gulf ruler in decades.

Khalil al-Marzooq, a senior member of Al Wefaq party and the leader of its delegation to the talks, told the Associated Press the party’s top leaders decided to withdraw from the so-called national dialogue during a meeting yesterday. Marzooq said they have concluded that the government is not interested in political reform.

The government had no immediate response.

Jordan

Jordanian authorities detained four police officers on suspicion of using excessive force against protesters and journalists in a prodemocracy sit-in, a police spokesman said.

Police swinging clubs clashed Friday with dozens of demonstrators trying to set up an open-ended protest camp in a central square in Jordan’s capital of Amman. At least 15 people were injured in the confrontation, which was the most violent since March.

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