BEIRUT - Syrian security forces fired live rounds and tear gas at thousands of people marching on Satruday in a funeral procession that turned into a protest in Damascus, killing at least one person, activists said. It was one of the largest demonstrations in the capital since the 11-month uprising against President Bashar Assad began.
The violence erupted during a visit by an envoy from China, which along with Russia recently supported Syria by vetoing a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned Assad's regime. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun called on all parties to stop violence that has killed more than 5,400 since March of last year, according to the United Nations.
China has sought to deflect the stinging international criticism over its February 4 veto of the Security Council resolution with stepped-up diplomacy, following the example set by Russia. After a meeting with Assad, Zhai said Beijing favors a solution to Syria's ongoing violence within the framework of the Arab League and based on proposals the group already put forward.
Syria was also getting support from Iran, its closest ally in the Middle East. Iranian state-run Press TV said two Iranian navy ships have docked in the Syrian port of Tartus to provide maritime training to Syria's naval forces. Iran's semiofficial Mehr agency said the ships arrived Friday, a day after they received permission from the Egyptian armed forces to sail through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea on their way to the Syrian coast. The reports could not be confirmed.
In Damascus, several people were wounded when security forces opened fire on mourners at the funeral procession in the Mazzeh district. Activists including the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one person was killed.
The funeral was held for three people killed by security forces on Friday following protests in the area. The activist network Local Coordination Committees said two people died in the gunfire Saturday, but the report could not be immediately verified.
The activist who witnessed the violence said the procession numbered around 15,000, making it among the largest anti-government gatherings in regime-controlled Damascus since the start of the revolt.
The Observatory said four other people were killed in Syria on Saturday, including one in Homs who died from sniper fire and another in the north, who was shot by security forces conducting raids.
Zhai is backing a referendum that would decide on the country's new draft constitution and create a multiparty system in Syria, ruled by the Assad family for 40 years.
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