Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed eight people across Syria overnight, activists said on Friday, in a sustained campaign to crush street protests against his rule buoyed by the demise of Muammar Gaddafi's power in Libya.
Many of the deaths occurred as a result of attacks on street demonstrations demanding an end to 41 years of Assad family domination that have been breaking out daily after Ramadan prayers that follow the breaking of the fast, they said.
"Congratulations to the Libyan people," read signs carried by protesters who marched at night demanding Assad's removal in the town of Kisweh, where thousands of refugees from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights live, just south of Damascus.
"God is with us. The revolution is bringing together the free," shouted demonstrators in the resort town of Zabadani, west of the capital and near the border with Lebanon.
Any power shakeup in Syria would have major regional repercussions. But Assad, from Syria's minority Alawite sect still has alliances with an influential Sunni business class, a loyalist core in the army and security apparatus facing little resistance in crushing protests anywhere in the country.
The 45-year president, who inherited power from his late father in 2000, has pursued parallel policies of strengthening ties with Iran and Shi'ite Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah while seeking peace talks with Israel and accepting European and U.S. overtures that were key in rehabilitating him on the international stage.
In an interview with state television broadcast on Sunday, Assad said he was responding to armed unrest and that he would not bow to Western pressure because "reform for colonialist states among the West means to offer them all what they want and sell out all rights".