Damascus: Syrian forces killed at least 15 protesters as tens of thousands swarmed the streets after Friday prayers, activists said, day after President Bashar al-Assad pledged that military assaults on civilians would be halted.
Russia and Turkey meanwhile dismissed growing calls led by US President Barack Obama for Assad to quit, offering the embattled Syrian leader rare support despite a damning UN report on his "apparent shoot to kill" policy.
On the political front, a group of "revolutionary blocs" formed a coalition vowing to bring down the regime and paid tribute to more than 2,000 civilians killed in crackdown on protesters since mid-March.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, 11 people, including an 11-year-old and a 72-year-old, were killed in the southern province of Daraa, epicentre of the anti-regime protests that erupted March 15.
Three others were killed in the central city of Homs and one in the Harasta suburb of Damascus. The Observatory said, security forces opened fire on
protesters, also wounding 16 people, in the Ghabagheb, Inkhil, Al-Herak and Nawa in Daraa, but the official SANA news agency blamed the shooting on "armed men."
The agency said, a policeman and a civilian were killed in Ghabagheb and six security forces wounded.
Tens of thousands of people flooded streets in major Syrian towns today, as they emerged from the weekly Muslim prayers, with the largest anti-regime demonstration reported in Homs.
Around 20,000 were on the streets of Al-Khalidiyeh demanding the ouster of Assad, said the Observatory, which also reported rallies in the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor, in the northern cities of Latakia and Banias.
Some 10,000 people marched in the Kurdish-populated cities of Qamishli and Amuda, according to an activist at the scene, while other protests were took place in and around Damascus and in Hama in the centre.
The Observatory said troops and security forces deployed in several areas to prevent protests from taking place, including in Latakia, where pro-regime 'shabiha' militias pounced on worshippers, as they emerged from a city mosque.
Security forces opened fire and conducted arrests to prevent protests from spilling into streets, namely in the Damascus neighbourhoods of Kadam and Hajar al-Aswad, where demonstrators chanted: "The people want the fall of the
Friday's rallies put to the test a commitment given by Assad to UN chief Ban Ki-moon the previous day that his security forces have ended operations against civilians.
The Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook group, one of the drivers of the protests, had called for the demonstrations under the slogan, "Friday of the beginnings of victory."
The civilian death toll from the security force crackdown on the protests has now passed 2,000, UN under secretary general B Lynn Pascoe told the UN Security Council yesterday.
And UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told members of the Security Council there was "reliable corroborative evidence" that Syrian forces are deliberately shooting anti-regime demonstrators.
Frustrated that international calls for a halt to the bloodletting were being snubbed by Damascus, US President Barack Obama yesterday called for Assad to quit for the first time since the protests broke out.
"We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led.
For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Obama said.
His call was quickly echoed by the leaders of Britain, France and Germany while Spain followed suit today. But Russia and Turkey disagreed.
"We do not support such calls," Russia's Interfax news agency reported, citing a foreign ministry source who added that Assad's regime must be "given time to implement all the reform processes which have been announced."
A government official in Ankara agreed and told a new agency that a call for Assad's ouster must come from the Syrian people themselves.
First Published: Friday, August 19, 2011, 20:36