Dozens of people were killed in Syria on Friday as troops opened fire on protesters in several cities and pro- and anti-government crowds clashed on the tense streets of the capital in the most widespread unrest in years, witnesses said.
The United States called on the Syrian government to stop violence against demonstrators and the arrests of human rights activists, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Friday.
"We strongly condemn the Syrian government's attempts to repress and intimidate demonstrators," he told reporters.
Eyewitnesses reported at least 15 fatalities in the city's central square, al-Jazeera said. Opposition sources reported heavy clashes near the governor's home in town and said dead and wounded were lying in the streets. Crowds in town set fire to a bronze statue of the country's late president, Hafez Assad, a resident told The Associated Press.
According to AFP, several people were also shot to death in the town of Sanamein, some 40 kilometers north of Deraa. Elsewhere, security forces killed three people in the Mouadamieh district of Damascus, after a crowd confronted a procession of cars driven by supporters of President Bashsar al-Assad, residents said later Friday.
Meanwhile, an activist told the AP that witnesses had reported one demonstrator shot dead by security forces in the coastal city of Latakia, and another slain in the central city of Homs. He said several people had been hospitalized in Latakia.
The violence erupted after tens of thousands of Syrians took to the streets across the country. The demonstrations and ensuing crackdown were a major escalation of the showdown between President Bashar Assad's regime and the protestors.
An activist in Damascus in touch with eyewitnesses in the southern village of Sanamein said troops there opened fire on demonstrators trying to march to Deraa, a short distance away. He said there had been witness reports of fatalities, some claiming as many as 20 slain, but those could not be independently confirmed.
A video posted on Facebook by Syrian pro-democracy activists showed what it said were five dead young men lying on stretchers as men wept around them. The voice of a woman can be heard saying "down with Bashar Assad."
Syria in flames (Photo: MCT)
Much of Damascus was tense, with convoys of young people roaming the streets in their cars, honking incessantly and waving out pictures of Bashar Assad and Syrian flags. The convoys briefly blocked streets in some areas.
Dozens hurt in Jordan
In Jordan, one bystander was killed when Jordanian security forces used batons and sprayed water to disperse a clash between pro-monarchy demonstrators who hurled stones at protesters calling for political reform, a witness said.
Amer Khairy Saad told Reuters his father, Khairy, 57, died in hospital after police beat him as they were trying to disperse the opposing crowds who had gathered near the Interior Ministry in the Jordanian capital.
"My father left the house to make sure my brother was okay. And then he found police beating him, he was taken to hospital and he died there," the son, Amer, told Reuters.
Islamist, leftist, liberal and tribal figures have staged protests and sit-ins over the past few weeks calling for a constitutional monarchy. But the demonstrations have been on a much smaller scale than elsewhere across the Arab world.
Security forces earlier in the day erected a barrier in the Gamal Abdul Nasser roundabout near the ministry to keep the two sides separate, and beat back those who tried to breach it.
"The (pro-monarchy) thugs were throwing stones from one side and police were attacking protesters with sticks to push them back," protester Mahmoud Hamawi told Reuters.
A Reuters cameraman was beaten up by pro-monarchy supporters and Jordanian security forces. His camera was broken.
A photographer at the scene, Rabie Zureiqat, told Reuters:
"Security officers came and took my camera and beat me up with sticks," he said.
A member of the medical team with the pro-reform protesters, some of whom camped out on the roundabout on Thursday night, said more than 50 people had been injured, some seriously.
AP, Reuters and AFP contributed to the story
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