Damascus streets contrast sharply with border chaos

June 24, 2011

By the CNN Wire Staff

Damascus, Syria (CNN) — The scene inside Syria’s capital Thursday contrasted sharply with the scene in recent days on the Turkish side of the border, where some 10,000 refugees have sought shelter and safety as unrest continues to shake the country.

CNN journalists entered Damascus Thursday after months of being barred from reporting inside the country. Accompanied on their video shoots by a government “minder,” the journalists found life in the Old City appeared, at first glance, relatively normal.

Outside a restaurant, a speaker blared pro-government music. “We are your men, Bashar, you’re the one who is protecting Syria,” said the lyrics of one song in a reference to the president, Bashar al-Assad. The manager of the restaurant said it was a symbol of nationalism.

On the sidewalks, people were selling pro-government paraphernalia, including key chains, T-shirts and party hats emblazoned with pro-government slogans and the likeness of President Bashar al-Assad. Business is good, said the owner of one of the stands.

Some people expressed anger. One woman approached CNN journalists and said she wanted all Westerners out of her country; that they had no business meddling inside Syria.

The view at the border with Turkey, 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of the city, was far different. There, thousands of Syrians have arrived in recent weeks carrying few possessions. Many of them told stories of abuse and threats by the security forces and vowed not to return to their homes until al-Assad is gone.

Government officials have said the military has simply been targeting armed gangs. The officials asked why the international media has been focusing on the relatively small number of refugees when the Iraq war displaced more than 1 million people.

CNN has sought permission to travel Friday to the areas where anti-government demonstrations are usually held. Activists told CNN they plan to hold more such rallies on Friday.

In Damascus, a small group of demonstrators supporting the government gathered outside the residence of the U.S. ambassador Thursday, screaming insults and trying to climb the wall to enter the premises. They were stopped before they were able to breach the residence, a source at the U.S. Embassy here said.

Ambassador Robert Stephen Ford was not home at the time, the source said.

Meanwhile, Syria advanced its efforts to crush the uprising by protesters calling for governmental reforms.

To read more, visit: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/06/23/syria.unrest/


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