Syria Security Forces Shoot Dead 16 as Sunni City of Aleppo Sees First Deadly Violence

Friday protests erupt a tens of thousands rally against President Assad's rule; first protester killed in Syria's second city Aleppo - a commercial hub with a rich merchant class with links to the Alawite ruling hierarchy.

Security forces shot dead 16 protesters at several demonstrations across Syria on Friday demanding the removal of President Bashar Assad, a main activists' group coordinating protests said.

The deaths included the first protester to be killed in Syria's second city, the commercial hub of Aleppo, the Local Coordination Committees said in a statement.

Syrian army soldiers ride on their military trucks as they enter the villages near the town of Jisr al-Shughour, north of Damascus, Syria.AP

The group said it had the names of the 16 civilians, among them three killed in Damascus suburbs and eight in Homs, a city of one million people where the presence of tanks and troops has not stopped people from holding big protests demanding political freedom and an end to Assad's autocratic rule.

Syrian human rights campaigner Ammar Qurabi said Central Security personnel had shot dead one demonstrator in Aleppo when they fired at several hundred protesters in Saif al-Dawla, a major street in the city center.

Aleppo, a mostly Sunni city with significant minorities and a rich merchant class with close links to the Alawite ruling hierarchy, had been largely free of protests, except at its university campus and on the outskirts, during the three month uprising.

Syrian forces fired on protesters on Friday as tens of thousands rallied against Assad, defying a crackdown which France and Germany said should be met with tougher international action.

Friday's protests erupted despite a pledge that Assad's tycoon cousin Rami Makhlouf, a symbol to protesters of elite corruption and unaccountability, would renounce his business empire and channel his huge wealth into charity.

Witnesses in the eastern town of Deir al-Zor said two people were shot dead as they tried to rip down posters of Assad and his father, who ruled for 30 years until his death in 2000. State television said gunmen shot dead a member of the security forces in Homs and wounded 20.

Activists said tens of thousands of people protested in the southern province of Daraa where the three-month revolt against Assad's rule began, the Kurdish east, the cities of Homs and Hama north of Damascus, and suburbs of the capital itself.

Friday Muslim prayers have been a platform for the biggest protests leading to the most bloodshed in the uprising, inspired by revolts which overthrew the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and have challenged autocrats across the Arab world.

Residents said two northern towns remained encircled by army units, five days after the military retook the rebellious town of Jisr al-Shughour and sent thousands of refugees streaming across the nearby border into Turkey.

Syrian rights groups say 1,300 civilians and more than 300 soldiers and police have been killed since the protests broke out in March against 41 years of rule by the Assad family, and 10,000 people have been detained.

Assad has responded to the unrest with a mix of military repression and political gestures aimed at addressing protesters' grievances.

On Thursday state media said Makhlouf was quitting business and handing proceeds to charity. Makhlouf controls a string of businesses including Syria's largest mobile phone operator, duty free shops, an oil concession, airline company and hotel and construction concerns, and shares in at least one bank.

He has been subject to U.S. sanctions since 2007 for what Washington calls public corruption, as well as EU sanctions imposed in May, but repeatedly maintained that he was a legitimate businessman whose firms employ thousands of Syrians.

Activists said Makhlouf's step by itself would not curb the momentum of protests. They said Assad, who has only spoken twice in public since the uprising started, was expected to address the country soon and might unveil further measures.