Syria fires on thousands of protesters despite US warnings

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The Independent Online

The Syrian regime responded to Barack Obama's demand that it allow peaceful protests by firing on thousands of demonstrators yesterday who poured on to the streets demanding the end to Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule.

Rights groups today reported that at least 44 people were killed at rallies across the country, most of the them in the northern province of Idlib and the central city of Homs, the scene of repeated challenges to President Assad's rule.

The crackdown, which has become a weekly feature of the Syrian uprising as tens of thousands of people take to the streets after Friday prayers, came the day after President Obama told Mr Assad to lead the transition to democracy or "get out of the way". He also told the Syrian government to stop shooting demonstrators.

Witnesses reported that security forces also used tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators in Hama – the scene of a brutal crackdown by President Assad's father in 1982, which killed hundreds.

Human rights groups say more than 850 people have been killed in clashes during the past two months.