'Syrian forces kill 5 protesters in Homs as unrest spreads'

Rights campaigner says pro-democracy demonstrators shot at during large protest, scores injured; state forces arrest opposition leaders.

Tank Syria Deraa 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tank Syria Deraa 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian security forces shot dead five pro-democracy demonstrators when they fired at a large protest calling for political freedoms in the city of Homs on Friday, a rights campaigner in the city said.
"Five bodies were picked up in Bab al-Sibaa area. There are scores of injured protesters. Thousands are still marching peacefully in other parts of Homs," said the rights campaigner, who asked not to be identified.
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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 Assad, activists and witnesses said.
Also on Friday, security forces arrested opposition leader Riad Seif at a pro-democracy demonstration in the Midan district of Damascus, his daughter and human rights campaigners said.
"My father was shoved into a bus with other protesters who were detained during the demonstration near the al-Hassan mosque," Jumana Seif told Reuters.
Seif, 64, has prostate cancer. He spent a total of eight years as a political prisoner on charges of "weakening national morale", a charge regularly used by the Syrian authorities against opposition and independent figures critical of Syria's autocratic rule.
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.
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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