Middle East

Syria: Protesters in south set fire to buildings

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Media captionFootage of protests in Deraa believed to have been filmed on 19 March

Demonstrators in the southern Syrian city of Deraa have set fire to several buildings during a third consecutive day of protests, witnesses say.

One report said the buildings targeted included the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party.

Police tried to disperse protesters in the southern city, and one demonstrator was reportedly killed.

Violent clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces on Friday left at least four people dead.

The protests on Sunday came as a government delegation arrived in Deraa to offer condolences for those killed.

Residents told Reuters news agency that protesters had set fire to symbols of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, including the Baath Party building, a courthouse and two branches of a phone company owned by the president's cousin.

Earlier, protesters in Deraa called for an end to Syria's 48-year-old emergency law, and for the dismissal of officials involved in Friday's crackdown, reports said.

Activists were quoted as saying that police had used tear gas and live ammunition to try to clear demonstrators, and that one protester had been shot dead and dozens of others injured.

The protesters are said to be in control of the centre of the city and to have turned a mosque into a field hospital.

Syria's official news agency carried a denial that anyone had been killed.

'Communications blocked'

Roads into Deraa have been blocked and there have been military helicopters flying over the city, activists said.

Image caption Government officials visited Deraa on Sunday to convey condolences

The internet, electricity and most communications are now blocked in the city, witnesses told the BBC.

Protests were also reported in other parts of the country on Friday and Sunday, and human rights activists said the authorities had been arresting those who took part.

Syrian President Assad, whose Baath party has dominated politics in the country for almost 50 years, tolerates little dissent.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones reports from neighbouring Lebanon that Syrian authorities are using a combination of force and concessions to try to prevent further protests.

The government said it would release 15 children arrested for spraying revolutionary slogans on walls in Deraa, and it has announced a three-month reduction in the length of compulsory military service across the country.

The official news agency has tried to explain the security forces' use of live ammunition by saying that instigators impersonating security officials have misled the police into using violence and live bullets.

So far Syria has remained unaffected by demands for change in the Arab world, but it now seems the government is facing a challenge to its authority, our correspondent says.

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