Protests broke out across Syria on Friday, with thousands calling for freedom in the Kurdish east and dozens briefly marching in Damascus to demand the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad, activists and witnesses said.

But the army, which stormed the southern city of Deraa last month to crush resistance in the cradle of the seven-week uprising, deployed tanks in the central city of Homs and security forces quickly dispersed the Damascus protest.

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Witnesses said security forces also opened fire at protesters in the town of Tel, just north of the capital, wounding demonstrators.

Activist Wissam Tarif said protests also took place in the southern town of Jassem, coastal Banias, and Amouda in the east.

Human rights campaigners say army, security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad had killed at least 560 civilians during pro-democracy demonstrations that started in March. Thousands have been arrested and beaten, including the elderly, women and children, they said.

Officials give a much lower death toll and say half the fatalities have been soldiers and police, and blame "armed terrorist groups" for the violence.

The United States, which called the army crackdown in Deraa "barbaric", imposed further targeted sanctions last week against Syrian officials and Europe's main powers have been pushing for similar European Union measures.

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