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Syrian security forces fire on protest, killing 4

Syrian govt`s crackdown has killed more than 1,000 over the past two months.

Updated: May 28, 2011, 00:36 AM IST

Amman: Syrian security forces shot dead seven people on Friday, rights campaigners said, as protesters defied a nationwide crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad which world leaders condemned.

Three protesters were killed in the central city of Homs, another three in the Damascus suburb of Qatana and one in the town of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon, they said.

Troops also fired at protesters calling for the "overthrow of the regime" in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, a rights group and residents said.

Rights groups estimate at least 1,000 people have been killed over 10 weeks. Leaders at a Group of Eight meeting in France said they were "appalled" at the killing of peaceful protesters, demanding an immediate end to the use of force.

Damascus has ignored growing Western condemnation and sanctions and looks determined to crush the pro-democracy revolt by sending out security forces and tanks to subdue unrest it blames on armed groups backed by foreign powers.

State television said nine "martyrs," including police and civilians, were killed by armed groups on Friday. Authorities say at least 120 soldiers and police have been killed since the protests erupted in March.

The biggest demonstrations typically occur on Fridays after Muslim prayers, and they have also generally been the deadliest. But the bloodshed this week appeared to be on a lesser scale than witnessed recently.

Human rights activists said protests flared in the eastern cities of Albu Kamal, where people burned pictures of Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who this week threw his weight behind Assad.

They said tens of thousands of people marched in the city of Hama, site of an army assault to crush an armed Islamist uprising in 1982 during which up to 30,000 people were killed.

Demonstrations also broke out in Damascus districts of Barzeh, Rukn al-Din and Qaboun, several of the capital`s suburbs, in Latakia on the coast, Deraa in the south and in the Kurdish northeast.

"God is greater than the oppressor... Death rather than humiliation," shouted thousands in the Damascus suburb of Hajar al-Asswad.

Witness reports of events are hard to verify independently because Assad`s government barred most foreign media from the country not long after the start of the unrest, which was sparked by democratic revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

"Unfortunately, I regret to say that Syrian leaders have made a formidable step back. In these conditions, Syria no longer has our trust," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, speaking at the G8 summit in Deauville, France.

Ten weeks into the unrest, protests have failed to gain a critical mass as security forces prevent mass rallies and Damascus and Aleppo have yet to witness big demonstrations.

The Baath Party suppresses any dissent and there is no unified opposition structure to lead the popular movement. Opposition activists in exile will meet in Turkey next week to help coordinate the campaign.

In a communique issued at the G8 summit, the leaders of the seven Western powers plus Russia called on Damascus to respond to the Syrian people`s "legitimate demands for freedom."

"We are appalled by the deaths of many peaceful protesters as a result of the sweeping use of violence in Syria," the leaders said, adding they would take further measures if authorities did not embark on serious reforms.

Washington and the European Union have already imposed sanctions against Assad and other Syrian officials. But Russia has been more reticent in denouncing Assad because of a desire to reassert old Soviet-era influence in the region.

Western diplomats had expressed hope on Thursday that veto-holders Russia and China would not block a draft resolution which Britain, France, Germany and Portugal circulated to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in Deauville a draft resolution was "untimely and damaging."