Middle East

Syria unrest: US condemns 'disproportionate force'

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Media captionUS has condemned 'disproportionate force' on the demonstraters

The US has condemned Syria's use of "disproportionate force" to suppress demonstrations calling for greater freedom and an end to corruption.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor urged Damascus to allow protests to take place peacefully.

Earlier, troops were deployed in the southern city of Deraa as thousands marched for a fourth successive day.

So far at least six people have been killed in clashes with the security forces, including an 11-year-old boy.

Mundhir Masalmi died on Monday after suffering tear gas inhalation a day earlier, an activist told the Associated Press.

Although the demonstrators have not demanded the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, the unrest is the most serious challenge to his rule since he succeeded his father, Hafez, 11 years ago.

'No more fear'

On Sunday, troops fired live ammunition and tear gas at demonstrators who set fire to the offices in Deraa of the ruling Baath Party and the telecommunications company Syriatel, which is part-owned by Mr Assad's cousin. Raed al-Kerad, 23, was killed and dozens of others were injured.

Despite the heavy presence of riot police and heavily armed soldiers the next day, thousands of people chanting "No more fear!" marched through the city once more for the funeral of Mr Kerad.

The security forces appeared to adopt less heavy-handed tactics than in previous days, however, and they did not confront the mourners. Though at one point a small group was chased by police, and five were arrested.

Soldiers had earlier been deployed at the entrances to Deraa. People going in and out of the city had their identity cards checked.

There were also demonstrations on Monday in the nearby agricultural town of Jassim, where people chanted "This is peaceful" and "God, Syria, freedom", and in the towns of Nawa and Inkil, during which marchers held placards saying "freedom", according to the Reuters news agency.

Later, Mr Vietor said reports indicated the Syrian authorities had in recent days "used disproportionate force against civilians, and in particular against demonstrators and mourners in Deraa".

"We call on the Syrian government to allow demonstrations to take place peacefully. Those responsible for the violence over the weekend must be held accountable," he told reporters in Washington.

Human Rights Watch meanwhile said Syria should "cease use of live fire and other excessive force against protesters".

"The Syrian government has shown no qualms about shooting dead its own citizens for speaking out," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East and North Africa director.

"Syrians have shown incredible courage in daring to protest publicly against one of the most repressive governments in the region, and they shouldn't have to pay with their lives."

The government has sent senior officials to Deraa to try to calm the tensions. It has also released the 15 children whose detention for writing pro-democracy graffiti triggered the first protest on Friday.

The protesters have also demanded the release of political prisoners, the closure of the secret police headquarters in Deraa, the dismissal of the governor, and a public trial for those responsible for the killings.

Syria has been ruled under emergency laws for nearly 50 years, and the Baath Party is known for brutally suppressing dissent.

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