Reporting from Beirut—Tens of thousands of Syrians demanding the downfall of the nation's government poured into the streets of the central city of Hama on Friday in a powerful rebuttal to both longtime President Bashar Assad's much-doubted entreaties to dialogue and his use of deadly force to suppress the popular revolt against his autocratic rule.
Video footage posted to the Internet showed crowds as far as the eye could see in the city infamous for a brutal 1982 crackdown by Assad's father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, on what he termed an Islamist revolt.
"The people want the downfall of the regime," they chanted in a deafening roar, holding a massive Syrian flag as well olive branches and roses in the city's central Asi Square.
Syrian security forces launched a sweeping military assault on the city last week after massive protests led to the firing of the provincial governor. This week's crowd appeared to be as large or larger, perhaps protected in part by the presence of U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford. He visited the city Thursday and possibly remained Friday in what the State Department described as a show of solidarity with the people of Hama, enraging Syrian authorities who described it an American "incitement" and interference in the country's affairs.
Bracing against bullets and tear gas from security forces and pro-regime gunmen, tens of thousands of Syrians also took to the streets of cities and towns, including the capital, Damascus, and the second-largest city, Aleppo, after prayers Friday, many voicing their rejection of a "national dialogue" conference planned for Sunday.