A demonstration by hundreds of Syrian university students turned violent Monday when security forces raided the gathering, killing one student as the country's three-week uprising gathered strength, activists said.
There were conflicting reports about whether the student was shot or beaten to death.
Video footage posted online showed what appears to be plainclothes security forces beating protesters and forcefully pulling others away as they marched inside the campus of Damascus University.
"The Syrian people are one!" the students shouted in the video.
The reports that a student was killed could not be confirmed by The Associated Press due to severe restrictions Syria has placed on journalists. Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria's National Organization for Human Rights, said the student was shot. But Ausama Monajed, a London-based political activist, said the student was beaten to death.
Both activists cited eyewitnesses at the scene.
Protests erupted in Syria more than three weeks ago and have been growing steadily, with tens of thousands of people calling for sweeping reforms to President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime.
More than 170 people have been killed since March 18, according to human rights groups.
The international community increased pressure on Assad on Monday, calling the violence unacceptable and outrageous.
"Reform and repression are incompatible," a French Foreign Ministry statement said Monday.
The strong criticism was a change because international and Arab reaction to the violence in Syria has been relatively subdued. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said late last month that Assad is a a "different leader" than Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, and that many members of Congress who have visited the country "believe he's a reformer."
But with the mounting casualties, others in the international community have begun voicing criticism.
Syrian tank in Banias (Photo: Reuters)
'Security forces regime-hired gangs'
Also Monday, some 2,000 mourners chanting "Death is better than humiliation!" turned out in the port city of Banias for a funeral for four people killed there Sunday, an eyewitness said.
The military rolled into the city early Monday, taking up positions around key buildings and intersections before pulling out and manning checkpoints on the outskirts. The witness, speaking on the phone from Banias, said schools and shops were closed because people feared more clashes.
He said the army's arrival was met mostly with relief.
"We are happy it's the army and not security forces who are like regime-hired gangs," he told The Associated Press. Like most eyewitnesses who spoke to the AP, he requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from the government.
In Banias, no soldiers were present at the funeral. Participants dispersed peacefully.
"The troops just came into the city to say they are with the people, not against them," the resident said.
The government blames the violence on armed gangs rather than reform-seekers and has vowed to crush further unrest. On Sunday, state television reported that thugs killed nine soldiers in an ambush near Banias, which is 300 kilometers northwest of the capital, Damascus.
Assad has made a series of overtures to try and appease the growing outrage, including sacking local officials and granting Syrian nationality to thousands of Kurds, a long-ostracized minority. But the gestures have failed to satisfy protesters who are demanding political freedoms and an end to the decades-old despised emergency laws.
On Sunday, Assad ordered the release of 191 detainees who were arrested in the past few weeks during protests in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where 12 people were shot dead during last Friday.
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