Syrian security forces dispersed about 150 people who had gathered in front of the Interior Ministry in central Damascus on Wednesday to demand the release of political prisoners, a Reuters witness said.
Scores of plain-clothed security forces charged the gathering with batons and at least one demonstrator suffered a gash on his head. At least five protesters were detained by security forces.
The gathering in Marjeh square, an Ottoman-era square in the centre of the capital, had been silent, with protesters raising pictures of their imprisoned relatives and friends, before security forces started hitting them.
The protest was dispersed after the clash, and security forces continued arresting more people and shoving them into a bus and a darkened van.
A brief counter-demonstration then started, with people chanting: “With our soul, with our blood, we shall sacrifice for Bashar,” in reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
On Tuesday about 40 people joined a protest in Damascus, briefly chanting political slogans in the first challenge to the ruling Baath Party since protests and civil unrest gripped countries across the Middle East.
Assad, who succeeded his father 11 years ago, is also head of the Baath party, which has been in power since 1963, banning opposition and imposing emergency law which is still in force.
Since mass uprisings overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Syrian authorities have intensified a long-running campaign of arrests of dissidents, independent writers and opposition figures.