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    Syrians protest U.S. raid amid heavy security

    AP
    30.10.2008 - 10:09 | Son Güncelleme:

    Tens of thousands of Syrians poured out onto a Damascus square in a government-orchestrated rally Thursday to denounce a deadly U.S. raid near the Iraqi border and send a loud message to America: Leave us alone! (UPDATED)

    A ranking government official also challenged Washington to prove that U.S. helicopters targeted a top al-Qaida militant in the attack which Damascus says killed eight civilians.

     

    The demonstration - a mile away from the U.S. Embassy which had shut down for the day - passed without violence and the flag-waving crowd dispersed peacefully after two hours of chanting anti-American slogans.

     

    Hundreds of Syrian riot police in helmets, with batons and protective shields, ringed the embassy protectively. The demonstrators made no attempt to head for the U.S. compound in the upscale Maliki neighborhood housing the embassy and the adjacent U.S. residence building. Plainclothes security agents stood on surrounding intersections.

     

    The crowd at the central Youssef al-Azmi Square seemed to direct its anger mostly at U.S. President George W. Bush.

     

    Ahmad Deeb, a 30-year-old civil servant said he came to condemn the U.S. "attack against Syrias sovereignty" and tell Bush: "enough criminal acts."

     

    "Leave us alone," said Deeb. "The world will be better next week because whoever is going to be elected as president will be better than Bush."

     

    University student Hussam Baayoun, 20, said the demonstrators "want the Americans to stop their acts of terrorism in Syria, in Iraq and the rest of the world."

     

    Protesters totted pictures of President Bashar Assad and held banners reading "America the sponsor of destruction and wars" and "We will not submit to terrorism." Another banner criticized Iraq for letting Americans use its territory to attack Syria.

     

    The Syrian government has demanded Washington apologize for the strike of the Abu Kamal border community and threatened to cut off cooperation on Iraqi border security if there are more American raids on Syria territory.

     

    The U.S. Embassy was closed amid security concerns related to the protest, and the American school was also shut for the day. Following the raid, Damascus ordered the closure of the school, expected within a week, and the immediate closing of the U.S. cultural center linked to the embassy.

     

    Although authorities usually keep Syria under tight control and Americans have generally felt welcome in the country, violence against U.S. and European interests at protests has erupted in the past.

     

    In Baghdad, the foreign ministry said Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called his Syrian counterpart late Wednesday to express Iraqs rejection of the attack and stress his governments keenness to avoid any political escalation that would damage relations between the two countries.

     

    Washington has not formally acknowledged the raid but U.S. officials, speaking to the media on condition of anonymity, have said the target of the raid was Badran Turki al-Mazidih, a top al-Qaida in Iraq figure who operated a network of smuggling fighters into the war-torn country. The Iraqi national also goes by the name Abu Ghadiyah.

     

    Syria insists the dead were all Syrian civilians and has challenged Washington to provide evidence its forces targeted a top al-Qaida operative.

     

    Information Minister Mohsen Bilal said the "aggression ... was supposed to yield a catch so that they could show it to the world ... But the catch turned out to be an innocent family."

     

    Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, but in recent months, Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

     

    But American accusations that Syria wasnt doing enough to prevent foreign fighters from crossing its borders into Iraq remains a sore point in relations. Syria says it is doing all it can to safeguard its long, porous border.

     

    Photo: AP

     

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