Thirty die in protests across Syria

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The Independent Online

A mass protest calling for sweeping changes in Syria's authoritarian regime turned bloody yesterday, with the government and protesters both claiming to have sustained heavy casualties as the country's three-week uprising entered a dangerous new phase.

Syria's National Organisation for Human Rights said at least 32 people were killed nationwide on Friday. That lifts the death toll from three weeks of protests to more than 170 people.

Human rights activists and witnesses said Syrian security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters in the volatile southern city of Daraa, killing 25 people and wounding hundreds. But state-run television said 19 policemen and members of the security forces were killed when gunmen opened fire on them.

It was the first significant claim of casualties by the Syrian government, which has contended that armed gangs rather than true reform-seekers are behind the unrest – and could signal plans to step up its retaliation.

Protest organisers have called on Syrians to take to the streets every Friday for the past three weeks, demanding change in one of the most rigid nations in the Middle East. Protests were held in several cities across the country on Friday as the movement showed no sign of letting up, despite the violent crackdowns.

The witness accounts coming out of Syria could not be independently confirmed because the regime has restricted media access to the country, refusing to grant visas to journalists and detaining or expelling reporters already in the country. Daraa has largely been sealed off and telephone calls go through only sporadically.

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