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Syrian army tanks 'surround city'


The aftermath of unrest in the southern Syrian city of Daraa (AP)

The aftermath of unrest in the southern Syrian city of Daraa (AP)

The aftermath of unrest in the southern Syrian city of Daraa (AP)

Syrian soldiers and tanks carrying out a nationwide crackdown on opponents to the government are reported to have surrounded the city of Hama.

President Bashar Assad, who inherited power in 2000 and whose father crushed a revolt in Hama in 1982, is trying to smash an uprising which began nearly two months ago.

Human rights activist Mustafa Osso said troops backed by tanks have been deployed around Hama and security forces are detaining people.

In an echo of the earlier uprising, the Syrian army shelled residential areas in central and southern Syria on Wednesday, killing 18 people, said human rights group Amnesty International.

The shelling of neighbourhoods evoked memories of Assad's father Hafez, whose most notorious act was shelling Hama in 1982. He levelled the city to crush a Sunni uprising and up to 25,000 people were killed, according to Amnesty estimates.

On Wednesday, other activists said security forces used clubs to disperse about 2,000 demonstrators at the university campus in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

The intensifying military operation and arrest raids seemed to be an effort to pre-empt another day of expected protests throughout the country on Friday.

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More than 750 people have been killed and thousands detained since the uprising against Assad's autocratic rule began in mid-March.

Since the uprising began, authorities have been making announcements about reforms on Thursdays in an attempt to head off protests on Friday, the main day for demonstrations in the Arab world.

This week the state-run news agency Sana said prime minister Adel Safar introduced a new programme to employ 10,000 university graduates annually at government institutions.

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