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Dozens reported dead in bloodiest day of uprising so far as "Great Friday" demonstrations rock several cities.
last Modified: 22 Apr 2011 14:42
As many as 70 people were reported to have been killed in Syria on the bloodiest day since the uprising began, as security forces use live ammunition and tear gas to quell anti-government protests across the country.
Activists sent a list naming 70 people from across the country who they said had been killed by security forces during the "Great Friday" protests.
Fifteen of the deaths took place in Izraa, near the flashpoint southern town of Daraa, according to the list.
Deaths were reported in Douma and Zamalka, near Damascus (see this video posted from an unknown source from Zamalka). Other protesters were killed in Homs, Syria's third largest city, and in Daraa and elsewhere.
Demonstrators marching in peace were surprised by security forces' live ammunition, according to Hazem, a protester speaking with Al Jazeera via phone from a Damascus suburb.
The protesters took to the streets to mark what activists dubbed "Great Friday" - protests that could turn out to be the biggest against Bashar al-Assad's government to date.
In the capital, however, a heavy security presence prevented protests from taking off.
Several witnesses, including medical professionals, told Al Jazeera that many of the injured were either being refused access to hospitals or were too scared to seek treatment.
A government spokesperson told Al Jazeera on Friday that security forces would fire on protesters only if they were fired upon first.
State television, meanwhile, aired a talk show where speakers blamed foreign media, including Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and BBC Arabic, for inciting the protests.
Violence in Homs
A witness in Homs told Al Jazeera by phone that one of those killed in the city by government officers was a 25-year-old protester named Mohammed Bassam al-Kahil.
Speaking under condition of anonymity, the activist described how about 200 protesters, moving ahead of a 3,000-strong group, came under fire as they marched down Cairo Street, close to the Clock Square that has been the city's focus for protests.
"Suddenly the security opened fire on us randomly," the man said.
Meanwhile, a witness in Hasakah, in Syria's mainly Kurdish northeast, told Al Jazeera that demonstrators gathering at a mosque after prayers were attacked by pro-government protesters.
Syrian activists co-ordinating the protests against al-Assad's rule have demanded the abolition of his Baath Party's monopoly on power and the establishment of a democratic political system.
Contest of wills
On the eve of the protests, witnesses said security forces were setting up checkpoints in areas surrounding Damascus, checking people's ID cards.
Haitham Maleh, who heads the Syrian Human Rights Association, a civil-rights group, told Al Jazeera that the regime's reforms only went a fraction of the way towards satisfying the protesters' demands for more freedom, democracy and the legalisation of opposition parties.
Al Jazeera's Amin said that because one of the conditions for the newly gained right to protest was to request a permit, today's protests fell outside of the changes.
Commenting on the Syrian situation, Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East reporter for the UK's Independent newspaper, says Assad appears to be "stepping backwards" [see above video for full interview].
"Once you start giving these concessions, the crowds on the streets want more and it will always end at the same demand: end of the dictator," he told Al Jazeera from Beirut on Friday.
Western and other Arab countries have mostly muted their criticism of the killings in Syria for fear of destabilising the country, which plays a strategic role in many of the conflicts in the Middle East.