'More than 100 killed in Syrian anti-government rallies'

Britain urges Syria to respect people's right to peacefully demonstrate; 20,000 gather to protest Wednesday's killing of demonstrators.

Protesters in southern Syria 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)
Protesters in southern Syria 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)
More than 100 protesters have been killed by police gunfire in Deraa, the Syrian city where a recent wave of anti-government protests have taken place, AFP cited human rights activists and witnesses as saying Thursday.
Britain urged Syria to respect its people's right to peaceful protest after reports of many deaths when security forces cleared a mosque in Deraa. "We call on the government of Syria to respect their people's right to peaceful protest and to take action about their legitimate grievances," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
RELATED:Protesters march in Syria for fifth straight dayThe main hospital in the Syrian city of Deraa has received the bodies of at least 25 protesters who died in confrontations with security forces, a hospital official said on Thursday.
"We received them at 5 p.m. yesterday. They all had bullet holes," the official told Reuters.
A video clip uploaded to Youtube shows protesters carrying their friend's bloodied bodies through the streets as gunshots can be heard in the background.
Around 20,000 Syrians chanting freedom slogans marched on Thursday in the funerals of nine protesters killed by security forces in the southern city of Deraa, witnesses said.
"God Syria, Freedom. The blood of martyrs is not spilt in waste!" they chanted in Deraa's southern cemetery.
The nine were among at least 25 demonstrating youths who were fired at by security forces on Wednesday, residents said.
Deraa, on the Jordanian border, has long been a stronghold of the Baath Party, which recruits cadres from the region. But in recent days it has become a focus of unprecedented protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
The shooting on Wednesday began just after midnight, when security forces attacked protesters in the vicinity of the Omari mosque in the city’s old quarter, the focal point of the Deraa protests, residents said.
Electricity was cut off and telephone services were severed.
Cries of “Allahu Akbar” erupted in one quarter after another as the shooting at the mosque began.
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Those killed included Ali Ghassab al-Mahamid, a doctor from a prominent Deraa family, who went to the Omari mosque to help victims of the attack.
“Syrian authorities think they can kill nonviolent democratic protesters with impunity,” exiled Syrian rights defender Haitham al-Manna told BBC television from Paris.
An official Syrian statement said: “Outside parties are transmitting lies about the situation in Deraa,” blaming what it described as armed gangs for the violence.
The statement said Doctor Mahamid, killed in an ambulance that had arrived at the scene to rescue the injured, was “assaulted by an armed gang.”
It said the armed gang “stocked weapons and ammunition in the mosque and kidnapped children and used them as human shields.”
State television showed guns, grenades and ammunition it said were found in the mosque, but activists said the protest was peaceful and there had been no weapons.
An official statement said later that Assad had sacked Deraa governor Faisal Kalthoum. But a main demand of the protesters was an end to what they term “repression” by the secret police, headed in Deraa province by a cousin of Assad.
The mosque attack brought to 10 the number of civilians killed by Syrian forces in six days of demonstrations for political freedom and an end to corruption in the country of 20 million.
France, which has been increasingly vocal in condemning the violence in Syria, urged Damascus to carry out political reforms without delay and respect its commitment to human rights. It called for an investigation into the recent deaths in Deraa, the release of those detained in demonstrations and an end to the use of “excessive force.”
In Damascus, authorities released six women protesters on Wednesday who took part in a silent demonstration last week supporting the release of political prisoners, lawyers said.
Assad has lifted some bans on private enterprise but ignored calls to end emergency law, curb a pervasive security apparatus, develop rule of law and freedom of expression, free political prisoners and reveal the fate of tens of thousands of dissidents who disappeared in the 1980s.
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