Protesters set fire buildings, dozens killed in clash with the security forces in Syria; Al Qaeda terrorists and security personnel killed in separate clashes in Yemen; NATO to take over operations in Libya
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  • According to reports, demonstrators in the Syrian city of Deraa have set fire to several buildings during protests over the last week, calling for an end to Syria's 48-year-old emergency law. Unrest in Deraa came to a head this week after police detained more than a dozen schoolchildren for writing graffiti inspired by slogans used by pro-democracy demonstrators in other countries.1 According to some reports, the protesters targeted the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party. Violent clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces have started and there are reports of many protesters being killed around the country. The protests again took place on March 20 as a government delegation arrived in Deraa to offer condolences for those killed. Police had used tear gas and live ammunition to try to clear demonstrators.2

    While there are conflicting reports of the people killed during the protest, Amnesty International put the death toll in Deraa in the past week at 55 at least. Meanwhile, thousands of Assad's supporters waved flags, marched and drove in cars around Damascus and other cities to proclaim their allegiance to the Baath party and to Assad. Meanwhile, an adviser to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Buthaina Shaaban, stated on March 27 that the country’s emergency law would be lifted soon without giving an exact timetable for the action. The emergency law imposes restrictions on public gatherings and movement and authorizes the arrest of “suspects or persons who threaten security.” The law also authorizes interrogation of any individual and the surveillance of personal communication as well as official control of the content of newspapers and other media before publication.3

    In Yemen, reports noted that at least seven suspected Al-Qaeda militants were killed in clashes between Al Qaeda militants and security forces in its southern province of Abyan. An armed group of Al Qaeda attacked a security checkpoint at Amain in Lawder district on March 26 which resulted in the killing of the Al-Qaeda members.4 Elsewhere, in Mareb seven security forces were killed in an attack by Al Qaeda in Mareb province. Seven other security forces were also injured. The attack took place at a military checkpoint near the governmental complex in Mareb province. Grenades and machine guns were used by the attackers and they fled away two military vehicles that were being used at the check point.5 At least 12 Al Qaeda terrorists were killed and five others wounded during clashes with armed forces in the Akad area in the Lawder district on March 22. Al Qaeda fighters launched an offensive at a military battalion located in Akad the battalions resisted the offensive.6

    In a significant development, NATO has announced that it will assume overall responsibility for enforcing UN-mandated mission in Libya. This was announced by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's Secretary General, on March 27 following a meeting in Brussels. He stated that, "We have directed NATO's top operational commander to begin executing this operation with immediate effect. Our goal is to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat from the Gaddafi regime.” He also said that, "NATO will implement all aspects of the UN resolution. Nothing more, nothing less." The operations will be led by Canadian General Charles Bouchard who has said that the alliance "will do everything it can to deny any use of air power and it will do so with care and precision to avoid harming the people of Libya."7