10 Said Killed in Anti-government Protests Across Syria

Protesters take to the streets in Damascus for 'Friday of Martyrs' in honor of those killed in government crackdowns; at least six arrested and dozens beaten.

Ten protesters were killed in Syria on Friday during anti-government protests across  the country, the Al Arabiya television network reported.

Arab media is reporting that protesters were killed in the cities of Daraa, Latakia, Homs, Kamishli, and in Damascus.

Syria protests - AFP - April 1, 2011

Witnesses said that Syrian security forces killed at least three protesters on Friday in the southern Damascus suburb of Douma.

The three were among at least 2,000 people who chanted "Freedom. Freedom. One, one, one. The Syrian people are one," at Municipality Square in Douma when security forces opened fire to disperse them, they said.

Syrian security forces and President Bashar al-Assad loyalists attacked protesters with batons as they left the Rifaii mosque in the Kfar Sousseh district of Damascus after Friday prayers, a witness said.

Around 200 worshippers chanted slogans in support of the southern city of Daraa, where protests erupted against Baathist rule two weeks ago.

At least six protesters were arrested and dozens were beaten as they made their way out of the mosque, the witness told Reuters by telephone from the mosque complex.

The arrests came after Syrian security forces stepped up their presence in the capital and across Syrian provinces Friday in anticipation of the planned demonstrations to honor those killed in two weeks of protests demanding reforms.

In Daraa, hub of the Syrian protests, an eyewitness told The Associated Press up to 5,000 people took to the streets shouting "We want freedom! The blood of martyrs is not cheap!"

Syrian activists called through social network sites for massive demonstrations following Friday midday prayers across the nation. They have dubbed the protests "Friday of Martyrs" in reference to more than 70 people who died in the government crackdown on protesters.

The protests erupted March 18 in the impoverished and drought-stricken south and spread quickly to other areas.

President Bashar Assad dashed expectations he would announce sweeping reforms this week and instead blamed the popular fury that has gripped Syria on a foreign conspiracy. He set up committees on Thursday to investigate the civilian deaths and the possibility of replacing decades-old emergency laws.

The wave of protests has presented the 45-year-old leader with the gravest challenge since he inherited power 11 years ago from his father, taking the helm of one of the Middle East's most authoritarian regimes.

Scores of plainclothes security agents deployed Friday in Damascus near the historic Umayyad mosque, where only last week, pro- and anti-government crowds clashed, hitting each other with leather belts.

As people began leaving the mosque earlier Friday, a crowd of about 300 people carrying Syrian flags and pictures of Assad broke out into clapping and chants of "Allah, Syria, Bashar!"

Security forces made no attempt to stop them.

An eyewitness in the restive southern city of Daraa said troops were surrounding the city in an effort to head off planned protests.