DAMASCUS - Thousands of mourners at a funeral for a Syrian killed in anti-government protests burned a ruling Baath party building and a police station on Saturday as authorities freed 260 prisoners in a bid to placate reformists.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was facing the deepest crisis of his 11 years in power after security forces fired on protesters on Friday, adding to a death toll that rights groups have said now numbers in the dozens.

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Mosques across Deraa announced the names of "martyrs" whose funerals would be held in the southern city and on Saturday hundreds were gathering in the main square chanting for freedom.

Three bare-chested young men climbed onto the rubble of a statue of late President Hafez al-Assad, which protesters pulled down on Friday in a scene that recalled the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Iraq in 2003 by US troops.

A witness said they had cardboard signs reading "the people want the downfall of the regime", a refrain heard in uprisings across the Arab world from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen.

In nearby Tafas, mourners in the funeral procession of Kamal Baradan, who was killed on Friday in Deraa, set fire to the Baath party building and the police station, residents said.

A human rights lawyer said on Saturday that 260 prisoners, mostly Islamists, had been released after completing at least three-quarters of their sentences.

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Dozens of people have been killed over the past week around the southern city of Deraa, medical officials said. There were reports of more than 20 new deaths on Friday.

But the unrest came to a head after police detained more than a dozen schoolchildren for writing graffiti inspired by slogans used by other pro-democracy demonstrators abroad.

Amnesty International put the death toll in and around Deraa in the past week at 55 at least. Shops reopened in Deraa on Saturday, and security forces were not in evidence.

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