DAMASCUS: Thousands of protesters massed across Syria after weekly Muslim prayers on Friday as a global outcry widened over a deadly crackdown on month-old, anti-regime demonstrations.
As human rights activists spoke of repression in some places on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the government to halt the violence, while state news agency SANA said most demonstrations had gone off peacefully.
Demonstrators took to the streets of the restive city of Daraa as well as other centres in the Kurdish-populated north, a day after President Bashar al-Assad unveiled a new government.
Activists said up to 3,000 protesters marched to Daraa centre and more were on their way to the southern city, where security forces shot dead at least seven people a week ago.
“Between 2,500 and 3,000 people showed up at Al-Saraya area in the centre of the city, chanting slogans in favour of freedom and against the hostile regime,” said the activist.
Security forces looked on as protesters chanted “Death rather than humiliation!” he said.
Hassan Berro, an activist in the northeastern city of Qamishli, said some 5,000 people emerged from a mosque there to demonstrate in solidarity with the people of Daraa and Banias.
Banias on the Mediterranean coast, home to Sunnis, Alawite Muslims and Christians, is a key protest centre where government forces killed at least four people on Sunday.
Daraa, south of Damascus, has become the focal point of anti-government protests marred by deadly violence since the political unrest erupted in Syria a month ago.
“With our souls and our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you Daraa,” the protesters shouted in Qamishli, waving Syrian flags.
Another 4,500 people demonstrated in the three Kurdish neighbourhoods of Raas al-Ain, Amuda and Derbassiye, near Qamishli, Berro told AFP.
In Latakia, around 1,000 people gathered in the centre of the northwestern coastal city's Ugarit Square, calling for greater freedoms, a rights activist said.
In Homs, baton-wielding police waded into a crowd of around 4,000 people who started demonstrating after prayers and chanted “freedom, freedom,”political activist Najatai Tayara told AFP by telephone.
Police with batons and tear gas clashed with some 2,000 demonstrators in Jobar, north of the capital, a human rights activist said.
And about 50 protesters clashed with police in Barz, near Damascus, throwing stones at them, said rights activist Abdel Karim Rihawi.
In a statement late Friday afternoon, SANA said “small demonstrations took place” in various parts of the country with people chanting “for Syria, freedom and in homage to the martyrs, without the security forces intervening.”
”Most of the gatherings were short-lived and peaceful and life returned to normal in residential areas,” SANA added.
It said there were demos in Daraa, Qamishli, Derbassiye, Deir Ezzor, Homs, Banias, Jableh, Hiffeh, Hama and certain parts of Damascus province.
In Berlin, Clinton called “on the Syrian authorities once again to refrain from any further violence against their own people.
“The Syrian government has not addressed the legitimate demands of the Syrian people. It is time for the Syrian government to stop repressing their citizens and start responding to their aspirations.”
The latest demonstrations came a day after Syria announced an amnesty for scores of prisoners detained since the protests erupted and as it unveiled a new cabinet to replace the one that quit last month.
Assad's 11-year regime has been rocked by unprecedented protests since March 15 demanding reform and an end to a draconian emergency law.
Separately on Friday, the authorities freed a poet and a blogger who were arrested last month, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The security forces released at dawn on Friday the young blogger Ahmad Hadifa who was arrested on March 23 because of his activities on Facebook,” it said.
They also released Mahmud Mohammed Dibo, who was arrested on March 19 in Annaze village near Banias.
In Geneva, the United Nations issued a statement on Friday denouncing the regime's bloody response to the protests.
It deplored “the rising death toll and brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, journalists and human rights defenders in Syria despite the government's promises of reforms and consultations to end the 48-year-old emergency rule.”
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch accused Syrian security and intelligence services of torturing many of the hundreds of protesters detained since the demonstrations began.