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SYRIA: A nation reels from a day of violence [Videos]

May 21, 2011 |  2:44 am

Syrian activists upped the death toll from Friday's anti-government protests to 44 after a day of widespread clamoring for the downfall of President Bashar Assad. 

Security forces clamped down on protesters with gunfire and tear gas in several Syrian cities and towns after the weekly Muslim prayers.Syria-assad-hanging

But ordinary Syrians also had their say. In the video above, taken in the town of Talbeseh near Homs, people hang Assad in effigy, voicing their hatred for a regime that has killed up to 1,000 people in nine weeks of protest. 

Most of the dead came from the western province of Idlib and Homs in the central parts of the country, according to media reports.

But demonstrations erupted all over Syria on Friday: in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Dara, Baniyas, Idlib and other parts of the country on a day described as a Friday of Azadi (Friday of Freedom).

“It is no longer a question of whether Assad should step down, but rather of how and when,” said Rami Nakhla, a Syrian human rights activist. “Assad had the chance to make reforms and stay in power. By killing more than 1,000 peaceful demonstrators since the beginning of the Syrian protest, this is no longer a reasonable option.”

Separately, the European Union is reportedly planning to follow the U.S. lead and impose sanctions that directly target Assad. France hopes that EU foreign ministers will agree Monday on extending sanctions to the Syrian president, Reuters reports.

Here's a rundown of some of the protest activity around the country:

Damascus: Government agents gathered inside and outside a mosque in the neighborhood of Medan, in the center of the city, to prevent demonstrations, according to one activist...

... Despite the efforts, a few protests began in the neighborhood but were later dispersed by tear gas and in one instance live ammunition, the activist said. 

Amateur video footage also showed rare anti-government protests breaking out Friday in parts of Damascus' old city. The clip below depicts a small crowd of men marching down a narrow alley chanting, "The people want the downfall of the regime."


As in previous weeks, demonstrations were reported in many of the capital's restive suburbs, including Qabon, where a field of pro-government strongmen marched through the streets and alleys chanting "Abu Hafez"-- a nickname for president Assad -- and "where are the traitors" in a bid to intimidate demonstrators and residents, according to video footage.


In Sabqa, also a suburb near the capital, videos showed bands of security forces and pro-government militiamen storming through the streets and firing automatic weapons.



North of the city, in Barza, where power has been cut off, four people were reportedly shot to death and the shabiha, plainclothes militiamen loyal to Assad, burned homes and shops, as apparently shown in an amateur video clip.

Homs: Syria's third-largest city was said to be the site of the biggest protest. One activist estimated that as many as 25,000 people gathered. At least nine people were killed, including an 11-year-old boy, who was shot after police officers drove their cars into a crowd of about 2,000 demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them and then opened fire, according to the pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera.

Elsewhere in Homs, three residents were killed when security forces tried to storm a hospital, Al Jazeera reported.

Qamishli: As many as 10,000 demonstrated in the ethnic Kurdish city where people chanted, "No dialogue with tanks around, no dialogue with all the arrests, freedom for Syrians," according to activists.

Suweida: In the southern town and stronghold of the country's Druze community, reports said that shabiha militiamen attacked protesters indiscriminately. Video reportedly from Suweida shows a group of men in the streets chanting, "One, one, one, the people of Syria are one." 

Dara: In the besieged southern city, scattered protests were dispersed when tanks came upon the crowds, but there was no shooting in the city and no one was injured, said resident Abdullah Abazeid. 

Dara residents held Friday prayers in open squares and the streets, he said, because security agents and snipers are in control of the city's four mosques, including the Omari Mosque, which was at the center of the area's anti-government protests when they began.

Abazeid confirmed that the government has been releasing people it has arrested in its crackdown on anti-regime activity, but at the same time are arresting others. On Monday in Dara, 300 detainees were released while security agents went house to house and arrested more than 400 others. Many of the prisoners are coming out baring the scars of torture, he said, but are still joining them in the demonstrations. 

"We don’t just want the fall of the regime, we want the prosecution of the regime,” Abazeid said. "The blood of our people is valuable.”


Timeline: Uprising in Syria

Obama hints at shift on Syria

U.S. puts sanctions on Syrian president, top aides

Some see the hand of Iran in Syria's crackdown

-- Raja Abdulrahim in Los Angeles and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Video: YouTube