Syria protest
Syrian anti-government protesters holding banners calling for an end to a military siege in Nawa near the southern town of Daraa, on April 28, 2011. Photo by AFP
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At least 62 protesters were killed in in pro-democracy demonstrations throughout Syria on Friday, including 15 in the south Syrian town of Daraa, according to opposition members.

Casualties have been reported throughout the country in Homs, Latakia and Rastan, in Syria's latest 'day of rage'.

Earlier Friday, a hospital source reported that Syrian security forces killed 15 villagers at the entrance to the south-Syrian city of Daraa on Friday, saying they received the bodies of the villagers that were riddled with bullets.

A source at the hospital in Tafas, 12 km (8 miles) north west of the city, told Reuters that in addition to those killed, 38 villagers were injured and in hospital.

The official state news agency SANA said an "armed terrorist group" killed four soldiers and kidnapped two others in Daraa where Assad sent tanks and troops to crush resistance on Monday.

Syrian forces fired at thousands on protesters heading for the south Syria city that has become the epicenter of the six-week long protests that are shaking the rule of authoritarian President Bashar Assad, wounding dozens, witnesses said.

Protests erupted throughout Syria on Friday's 'day of rage', defying violent repression which a Syrian rights group says has killed 500 people. The Muslim Brotherhood took an unprecedented step, officially endorsing and participating in demonstrations.

The latest violence broke out after Friday prayers as thousands of people hit the streets across the country demanding Assad's removal and pledging support for the residents of Daraa, a city of 120,000 where the unrest originated on March 18.

"The people want the overthrow of the regime!" demonstrators chanted in many protests, witnesses said.

About 10,000 Syrians marched in support of Daraa from the old Midan district of Damascus on Friday in the biggest protest in the capital since the mass democracy movement began six weeks ago, rights campaigners said.

The protest, which started from Midan and surrounding districts and grew, was dispersed by security forces firing tear gas at protesters around Mujtahed hospital near the main Umayyad Square, they said.

More demonstrations flared in the central cities of Homs and Hama, Banias and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, Qamishly in eastern Syria and Harasta, a Damascus suburb.

Al Jazeera television aired footage from the village of Mahala near Daraa and from Banias and Homs. Protesters waved Syrian flags and banners saying: "No to the siege of Daraa," "A powerful country is the one whose people are free" and "We are preachers of freedom and peace, not saboteurs".

A witness in Daraa said Syrian forces fired live rounds at thousands of villagers who descended on the besieged city.

"They shot at people at the western gate of Daraa in the Yadoda area, almost three km (two miles) from the center of the city," he said. Another contacted by phone said he saw dozens who were injured being taken away by protesters in their cars.

A resident of Banias, Abdel Karim, said the demonstrations started from two mosques and were joined by nearby villagers.

A witness in Latakia said about 1,000 people turned out for an anti-government rally when plainclothes security agents with automatic rifles opened fire. He said he saw at least five people wounded. Like many witnesses contacted by The Associated Press, he asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisal.

Syrian state-run TV said one of its cameramen was injured in Latakia during an attack by an armed gang. The government has blamed the unrest on armed gangs - not true reform-seekers.

The government had warned against holding any demonstrations Friday and placed large banners around the capital that read: "We urge the brother citizens to avoid going out of your homes on Friday for your own safety."

Assad has said the protests - the gravest challenge to his family's 40-year ruling dynasty - are a foreign conspiracy carried out by extremist forces and armed thugs.

But he has acknowledged the need for reforms, offering overtures of change in recent weeks while brutally cracking down on demonstrations.

Last week, Syria's Cabinet abolished the state of emergency, in place for decades, and approved a new law allowing the right to stage peaceful protests with the permission of the Interior Ministry.

Separately, the United States and the European Union urged the UN Human Rights Council to investigate possible abuses in Syria and insist that Assad allow in foreign journalists and ease Internet restrictions. Diplomats from Nigeria and China, however, warned that any council action could be interpreted as meddling.

The U.S. and Western diplomats also plan to rally opposition to Syria's unopposed candidacy to join the 47-nation council.