Syrian forces kill 20 as thousands demand Assad's ouster

Gov't troops continue violent crackdown, firing on protesters across country, including in cities of Hama and Deir al-Zor.

Anti-Assad protest in Syrian city of Hama 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Anti-Assad protest in Syrian city of Hama 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - Syrian forces shot dead 20 protesters on Friday, activists said, as tens of thousands demanded the fall of President Bashar Assad, chanting "we will kneel only to God" despite a military crackdown that has triggered sanctions and condemnation abroad.
Defiant protest marches unfolded across the country including the cities of Hama and Deir al-Zor, both of which have been stormed in tank offensives launched by Assad during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
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The Local Coordination Committees activists' group said deaths included two protesters killed in the commercial hub of Aleppo, three in suburbs of the capital Damascus and two in the northern province of Idlib on the Turkish border.
Residents said two people were also killed in Hama, just days after the army completed a week-long assault on the city which became a symbol of defiance to Assad's rule after huge crowds gathered weekly to demand his overthrow.
"Go, Bashar!" protesters chanted in rallies held in the coastal cities of Latakia and Baniyas, as well as across the southern province of Deraa where the uprising against 41 years of Assad family domination first flared nearly five months ago.
In Deir al-Zor, forces fired live ammunition at protesters coming out of a main mosque, killing one person according to the local coordination committees.
A witness said a fire broke out in the mosque after security forces shot at it. "The whole neighborhood is echoing with the sound of bullets. Worshippers are running to take cover in alleyways," he said by telephone.
Another resident said: "Assad wants to finish off the uprising before international pressure becomes too much for him. But people have gone out of almost every major mosque in Deir al-Zor, metres away from tanks that occupy every main square and roundabout."
Syrian state television said one member of the security forces was killed by gunmen in Douma, just outside Damascus.
Assad's forces have intensified assaults on towns and cities across the country since the start of Ramadan nearly two weeks ago to try to subdue mounting dissent against the ruling family, despite threats of new US sanctions and calls from Turkey and fellow Arab states to end attacks on civilians.
Activists said at least 19 people were killed by Syrian forces in raids near the Lebanon border and in the country's Sunni Muslim tribal heartland on Thursday. Assad's family belongs to the minority Alawite sect that runs Syria.
More than 1,700 civilians in all have been killed in the military crackdown on protests against Assad, activists say.
Syria says 500 soldiers and police have died in the upheaval, which it blames on armed gangs and terrorists.
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