Syria - Reuters - 8.7.11
Anti-government demonstrators marching in Damascus after Friday prayers, July 8, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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Syrian security forces killed 32 civilians Friday, on what has been dubbed "Friday of Freedom Prisoners," when security forces shot at anti-government protesters in several Syrian cities, according to activists.

In Syria’s capital Damascus, 23 people were killed in the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, the Local Coordination Committees grassroots activists' group said.

It was the highest death toll in central neighborhoods of Damascus since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's autocratic rule erupted four months ago in the southern Hauran Plain near Syria's border with Jordan.

The killings prompted the opposition to cancel a "National Salvation" conference that was due in Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus on Saturday after security forces killed 14 protesters in front of the wedding hall where the conference was scheduled to take place, opposition leader Walid al-Bunni told Reuters.

Security forces also opened fire at pro-freedom demonstrators in Idlib near the Turkish border and other restive Syrian areas, leaving at least 15 people dead, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria.

"The authorities are reacting to the refusal of the opposition to take part in a dialogue the regime wanted to control to cover up for the killings," opposition figure Louay Hussain told Reuters from Damascus by phone.

The largest protest is in Hama, where close to 15,000 protesters have gathered calling for the end of Assad's repressive regime.

Syrian activists called for mass protests following Friday prayers across the troubled country to slam the continuing security crackdown and press for democracy.

The day has been dubbed "Friday of Freedom Prisoners," in honor of those jailed during months of protests against the government of President Bashar Assad.

Security forces set up barricades in districts of the capital Damascus and various towns, according to activists.

According to the opposition Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, civilians and at least one member of the security forces were killed in a security crackdown in the central city of Homs. The group did not specify the number of civilians killed.

On Thursday night, state television reported that armed groups were seen in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour. The report included footage of what it described as subversive groups who had allegedly attacked a pro-government march near Damascus.

The "armed groups" kidnapped two policemen and a high school student in the central city of Hama, according to the television report.

More than 1,400 people have been killed by security forces in the unprecedented protests since mid-March, human rights groups say.

The government has disputed this figure and continues to blame "armed thugs" and foreign conspirators for the unrest.

The reports are difficult to verify because the Syrian authorities have banned most foreign media and international human rights groups from entering the country.