Syrian troops have opened fire on a crowd of around 15,000 mourners in Damascus, killing at least one and injuring others, activists claimed.
The shooting yesterday occurred at a funeral for three people killed on Friday during a protest against President Bashar al-Assad.
The gunfire coincided with a visit by a Chinese envoy, who urged dialogue in a bid to defuse the 11-month crisis.
Chinese vice-foreign minister Zhai Jun met the Syrian president in Damascus, where he appeared to back proposals for mediation put forward by the Arab League.
Chinese officials quoted Zhai as telling Assad that China was willing to work with the Syrian government and opposition, the Arab League, and Arab countries to find a solution.
“China supports all the mediation efforts by the Arab League to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis and calls upon relevant parties to increase communication and negotiations to find a peaceful and appropriate solution within the framework of the Arab League and on the basis of the Arab League’s relevant political solution proposals,” officials said.
After his meeting, Zhai said China is “extremely concerned” about the escalation of the crisis, adding that he is hopeful the Syrian authorities will soon restore stability to the country. He also backed a referendum plan put forward by the Syrian regime as part of its plan to defuse the unrest.
The referendum would decide on the country’s draft constitution to create a multiparty system in Syria, ruled by the Assad family for 40 years.
“China has no selfish interests,” Zhai said, claiming the referendum “would be in the interest of the Syrian people”.
Assad’s call for a referendum, due on Saturday, has raised the question of how a nationwide vote could be held amid daily battles between Syrian troops and rebel soldiers. The opposition has opposed the referendum.
China, which carried out a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989, has refused to condemn Syria over the violence. Two weeks ago China, along with Russia, vetoed a UN resolution calling for President Assad to stand down immediately.
The UN believes that more than 5,400 people were killed in Syria last year, and the number has risen daily. In addition, 25,000 people are estimated to have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and more than 70,000 are internally displaced.
Yesterday’s funeral protest was one of the biggest demonstrations in the capital since the nationwide uprising began.
“They started firing at the crowd right after the burial,” said a witness.People tried to flee and seek shelter in alleyways, he added.
The opposition Syrian Revolution Coordination Union said the gunfire near the cemetery had killed one mourner and wounded four, including a woman who was hit in the head. A shopkeeper said many protesters were arrested.
Videos filmed by activists and posted online showed a crowd of people shouting “Allahu Akbar”, (“God is great”), and “One, one, one, the Syrian people are one”.
The violence erupted shortly after the Chinese envoy met President Assad at the presidential palace.