Middle East

Syria protests: 'Six killed' in Homs after prayers

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Media captionAmateur footage has emerged of various demonstrations on Friday

At least six people have been killed as thousands attended anti-government protests across Syria after Friday prayers, human rights activists say.

Three died in the country's third largest city, Homs, when security forces opened fire on demonstrators.

Two were killed in a northern suburb of the capital, Damascus, and another died in a village near Deraa in the south.

Earlier, an opposition leader said President Bashar al-Assad had promised troops would not fire on protesters.

Louai al-Hussain was quoting a presidential adviser, Buthaina Shaaban, after talks with officials to negotiate an end to the crisis.

Ms Shaaban made a similar statement when demonstrations began in mid-March. As many as 850 people may have been killed since then.

Homs has been the scene of a major military operation since Monday. Areas have been shelled by tanks, and troops have been conducting house-to-house searches and arrests to find or intimidate protesters.

The Syrian government says it is pursuing "armed terrorist gangs", which it blames for the deaths of about 98 soldiers and members of the security services nationwide, and 22 police officers.

'Huge crowd'

As Friday prayers came to an end, reports started to come in of protest marches leaving mosques in many parts of the country.

The first came from the mostly Kurdish, north-eastern town of Qamishli, where protesters carried a huge flag with the word "freedom" spelled out in Kurdish. There were some scuffles, but the rally ended peacefully.

Protests were also reported in a number of other towns and cities, including in the centre of Homs, where at least three people were killed, activists told the BBC.

"At first they opened fire in the air but the people continued... and then they shot directly into the crowd," one told the Associated Press.

There were also said to be gatherings in the Zahra, Mezzeh and Muhajirin areas of Damascus, and several outlying suburbs.

In the northern suburbs of Barzeh and Saqba, to the north of the capital, protesters reportedly chanted: "We want the overthrow of the regime."

In nearby al-Qaboun worshippers who came out of the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq mosque clashed with about 50 government supporters who were being filmed by a Syrian TV station, a witness told the Associated Press.

Plainclothes gunmen in a jeep with covered licence plates then opened fire on the anti-government protesters, he added. Activists said two were killed and several others wounded.

In the north-eastern suburb of Douma, arrests were reported, while in Daraya, to the west, security forces and militiamen fired tear gas.

Witnesses also said there were protests in central Hama, where Mr Assad's father crushed an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982.

Security forces initially held back, but later used batons, tear gas and water cannons to disperse the large crowd, they added. Protesters succeeded in ripping down a portrait of the president on the town hall.

Activists also said one person was killed in a village outside Deraa, the epicentre of the anti-government unrest.

Information Minister Adnan Hassan Mahmoud said army units had completed their withdrawal from Deraa and started a gradual withdrawal from the coastal city of Baniyas.

Residents of Deraa said there were still tanks outside mosques and that troops had fired into the air to disperse a large demonstration after Friday prayers, while those in Baniyas said hundreds of troops were still there.

Image caption The Syrian government says it is pursuing "armed terrorist gangs"

Mr Mahmoud also said there would be a "national and comprehensive dialogue" in all governorates in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the UK Foreign Office said that its political director, Geoffrey Adams, summoned Syrian ambassador Sami Khiyami to express its "profound concern about the Syrian government's violent repression of its own citizens".

A spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said earlier that 700 to 850 people had been killed in the two-month-long crackdown. The figure was based on accounts from rights activists.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it fears hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in Syria have been detained.

Reports from Syria are hard to verify independently, as foreign journalists are not allowed into the country.

CLICKABLE

Qamishli

A mobile phone snapshot, reportedly taken in Qamishli on 29 April, shows protesters carrying banners written in Arabic and Kurdish demanding democracy.

Damascus

Anti-government protesters in Syria say seven people have been killed by the security forces in the town of Talkalakh, close to the border with Lebanon.

Razan, who is a resident of Damascus, tells the BBC about violence and protests around Syria.

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Talbisah

Amateur video has captured the moment what was a peaceful protest in the Syrian city of Talbisah was broken up forcefully by soldiers.

This unverified video seems to show a peaceful protest in Talbisah. Moments into the footage, tanks fire on unarmed civilians. Wyre Davis reports.

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Deraa

Residents of Deraa walk past a burnt-out building. It follows shelling by troops in what human rights groups say was an intensified crackdown on protests in recent weeks.

Homs

Syrian army vehicles were photographed near Homs and broadcast on the Syrian opposition internet channel Sham SNN on 11 May.

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