Syria sought Tuesday to contain the first serious intrusion of the Arab world's political unrest by firing the governor of a southern province where a government crackdown killed seven protesters over the weekend.
Residents of the city of Daraa had been demanding his departure after security forces violently suppressed three straight days of protests by thousands of people calling for political freedom and an end to corruption. Forces used tear gas, water cannons and later live ammunition to disperse the crowds, which first gathered on Friday.
Enraged residents then set fire to several government buildings in a startling outburst of unrest in one of the Middle East's most repressive countries.
The provincial governor, Faisal Kalthoum, was fired on Tuesday, a Syrian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations barring him from being identified by name. Daraa residents accused Kalthoum - in office since 2006 - of corruption. During a demonstration Monday, protesters chanted, "The people want to bring down the governor."
Also on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Syrian authorities arrested a leading campaigner for southern protesters demanding freedom and an end to corruption.
Loay Hussein, a political prisoner from 1984 to 1991, was taken from his home in the Sehnaya district near Damascus, a statement by the independent rights organization said.
In a sign the unrest was spreading, video footage posted on the Internet showed new anti-government protests in a suburb of the capital, Damascus, and a village in southern Syria.
Syrian activists who reported the protests said they took place Monday evening. The activists spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared government reprisals. The authenticity of the videos could not be independently verified.
The region around Daraa, a city of about 300,000 near the border with Jordan, has suffered sustained economic damage from a years-long drought.
It was hit by another government crackdown in 2006, when security agents arrested 16 people during a three-day sweep in southern Syria, according to a human rights group.
The National Organization for Human Rights said the 16 arrested in Daraa province were accused of affiliation with a religious current, language Syrian authorities often used to describe the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
The group waged a campaign of bombings and attacks against authorities in the 1970s and early 80s before it was violently crushed by the Syrian government.