Anti-Syrian government protesters shout slogans in Damascus, Syria on Friday, March 25, 2011.
Anti-Syrian government protesters shout slogans in Damascus, Syria on Friday, March 25, 2011. Photo by AP
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Syrian activists on Sunday called for a nationwide general strike in the wake of a crackdown on anti-government protesters that has left dozens dead.

Their call through social networking websites came after seven protesters were killed late Saturday during mass demonstrations in Lattkiya, 350 kilometers northwest of Damascus, activists said.

The activists also said that 20 protesters have been killed since Friday near the Rahman mosque in Lattkiya.

State media reported that snipers were firing at the protesters from rooftops, "killing passers-by."

The government denied reports that security forces have shot at anti-government protesters in recent days and said "armed groups" have attacked police stations and stolen weapons, prompting the security forces to retaliate.

On Saturday, thousands took to the streets of the southern Syrian city of Daraa. According to Amnesty International, at least 55 people are believed to have been killed there during a week of unrest.

Despite reforms promised by President Bashar Assad to appease protesters, calls for his ouster have been growing.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference on Sunday welcomed reforms announced in Syria, and called for calm by all parties in order to "ease congestion and to avoid the repercussions of the crisis".

The unrest sweeping the Arab world spread across Syria over the weekend as tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated against Assad's regime in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, Homs, Hama and Dara'a. The latter city has been the site of demonstrations for more than 10 days now.

Amnesty International has estimated that 55 people were killed in the demonstrations in Dara'a last week, and over the weekend an additional 15 to 20 people were reported killed in Sanamein, just outside Dara'a in the south. Two people were reportedly killed in Latakia and another three in a Damascus suburb.

Arab television networks repeatedly broadcast images of the demonstrations, which included a scene in which a statue of Assad's father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, was toppled in Dara'a's main square. In another scene, crowds torched offices of the ruling Baath Party.

In another, hundreds took cover in the face of machine-gun fire in Sanamein, where the casualty figures were the highest in the country over the weekend. On Saturday, the unrest resumed in Latakia, Dara'a and Tafas, near Dara'a.

Assad has convened the leadership of his Baath Party to consider the steps to take to quell the unrest. Hezbollah's Al-Manar television in Lebanon reported that a shake-up of the Syrian cabinet was one of the moves being debated, along with the release of political prisoners.

Assad has been president since 2000, following the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad.