'Syrian forces kill 27 protesters as unrest continues'

15 protesters, 5 security men killed in Homs; EU agrees to freeze assets, ban travel of Syrian leaders; tanks deployed in Homs, Damascus.

Syrian soldiers leaving Deraa 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian soldiers leaving Deraa 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - Syrian security forces killed 27 protesters on Friday demanding an end to President Bashar Assad's rule, rights campaigners said, and the European Union agreed to impose sanctions in response to his crackdown.
Activists and witnesses said demonstrations broke out after the main Friday prayers in cities across the country of 20 million people, from Banias on the Mediterranean coast to Qamishly in the Kurdish east.
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Despite the harsh crackdown, protesters appear determined to maintain demands for an end to years of repression, arrests without trial and corruption by the ruling elite.
"The Syrian people will not back down after the country's budding youths were killed in their hundreds," said Montaha al-Atrash of the Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah.
Opposition leader Riad Seif, who helped initiate a peaceful movement seeking political freedoms and democracy 10 years ago, was arrested at one of Friday's protests, his daughter said.
Authorities also arrested on Thursday prominent Damascene preacher Mouaz al-Khatib, a major figure in the uprising, human rights campaigners said on Friday.
'7,000 Syrians arrested in wide sweeps'
A Western diplomat said 7,000 people had been arrested since the demonstrations broke out on March 18 in Deraa.
The United States, which sought for the last few years to engage Damascus and loosen its anti-Israel alliances with Iran and terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, imposed further targeted sanctions against Syrian officials last Friday.
Last week, Assad ordered the army into Deraa, cradle of the uprising that began with demands for greater freedom and an end to corruption and is now pressing for his removal.
An ultra-loyalist division led by his brother Maher shelled and machinegunned Deraa's old quarter on Saturday, residents said. The United States condemned the assault as "barbaric".
Syrian authorities said on Thursday the army had begun to leave Deraa, but residents described a city still under siege.
"With our soul and blood, we will sacrifice for you, Deraa", chanted 20,000 protesters in nearby Jassem on Friday.
Thousands more converged on the town of Tafas, 12 km (8 miles) northwest of Deraa, which remains encircled by tanks, carrying placards with the word "leave".
Aid workers from the Red Cross and Red Crescent delivered their first emergency relief supplies to Deraa on Thursday, bringing drinking water, food and first aid materials. They had no immediate information on casualties in the city.
Human Rights Watch cited figures from Syrian rights groups saying 350 people had been killed there. It urged authorities on Friday to "lift the siege" on the city and to halt what it called a nationwide campaign of arbitrary arrests.


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