Protesters shot dead as Assad forces open fire

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Security forces opened fire yesterday as thousands of anti-government protesters took to Syria's streets in a weekly ritual of defiance as they push for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, activists said.

At least seven people, including a child, were reported killed. Four were shot dead in Barzeh, a Damascus district, said human rights activist Mustafa Osso.

State television said unidentified "gunmen" had opened fire, killing three civilians and wounding several security force members.

The other fatalities were in al-Kasweh, another Damascus suburb, and the central city of Homs, said Omar Idilbi of the Local Coordination Committees, which track the protests.

Activists said a 12-year-old boy was killed when security forces fired on protesters in the Shammas neighbourhood in Homs. The reports could not be independently verified.

Demonstrations after Friday prayers in several other provinces also came under fire, but it was not clear whether there were casualties.

"Our revolution is strong! Assad has lost legitimacy!" protesters chanted in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani, according to a video posted on YouTube.

The military crackdown has failed to silence a pro-democracy movement that has now lasted more than 100 days. The Syrian opposition says 1,400 people have been killed in the continuing government crackdown.

In northern Syria, activists said at least 15,000 people held a protest on the highway linking the country's two main cities, Damascus and Aleppo.