Thousands of Syrians called on Friday for the toppling of President Bashar Assad and pledged support for the city of Deraa where tanks and troops have tried to crush resistance to his authoritarian rule, activists said.
A human rights group said at least 62 people were killed across the country in Friday's violence.
"The people want the overthrow of the regime!" demonstrators chanted in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, a witness said, defying violent repression in which 500 people have been killed since the nationwide protests broke out in Deraa last month.
Syrian forces injured scores when they fired on thousands of villagers who had come to Deraa in support of its residents, two witnesses said Friday.
A hospital near Deraa received 15 bullet-riddled bodies of villagers, a medical source said.The source at the hospital in Tafas, 12 km (8 miles) north west of the city, told Reuters 38 more villagers were injured and in hospital.
"They shot at people at the western gate of Deraa in the Yadoda area, almost three kilometers way from the centre of the city," said one witness. Another, contacted by phone, said he saw dozens who were injured being taken away by other protesters in their cars.
Meanwhile, Syria's official state news agency said an "armed terrorist group" attacked a checkpoint in Deraa, killing four soldiers and kidnapping two.
'Snipers on rooftops'
Demonstrations erupted on Friday in the central cities of Homs and Hama, Banias on the Mediterranean coast, Qamishly in eastern Syria and Harashta, a Damascus suburb. Shots were heard in coastal Latakia and two small protests broke out in Damascus, witnesses, an opposition leader and a human rights group said.
In Latakia, a girl was killed after she was shot in the chest, an opposition website said.
In Deraa, Syrian soldiers fired shots in the air to prevent people attending Friday prayers or protesting, a resident told Reuters. Another said busloads of people were heading to Deraa from nearby villages, trying to converge for demonstrations.
"The snipers are on rooftops of buildings firing at anything that moves. They are preventing people from going to the streets," Abu Mohammad told Al Jazeera television.
Witnesses said roads into Damascus were closed on Friday morning to prevent people marching from the rural areas around the capital into the city.
Wissam Tarif, director of the Insan human rights organisation, said snipers were visible in several Damascus suburbs, including Harasta, Daraya, and Douma from where protesters had tried to march into the centre of the capital in the last two weeks, only to be met by bullets.
Another witness said Republican Guard trucks equipped with machine guns patrolled the circular road around Damascus.
Roee Nahmias and AFP contributed to the story
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