Syria unrest: New protests erupt across country

media captionThe BBC's Lina Sinjab reports from Syria as video purporting to show protests emerges

New anti-government protests have erupted in several Syrian cities after Friday prayers, despite heavy security.

Witnesses said thousands of people took to the streets chanting "freedom". The state news agency said protesters were calling for reforms to be speeded up.

Reports suggest four protesters died as security forces opened fire in the Damascus suburb of Duma.

Activists had dubbed Friday a Day of Martyrs to honour the dozens of people killed during two weeks of protests.

President Bashar al-Assad said earlier this week that demonstrations were part of a foreign "plot".

In a speech on Wednesday, Mr Assad did not announce the lifting of emergency legislation as some analysts had predicted.

However, the president later said he had directed a legal committee to look into lifting unpopular emergency laws - in place since 1963.

Backing for Mr Assad's regime has also been in evidence, with huge crowds joining officially encouraged shows of support for the regime in Damascus on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the US said two Americans detained in Syria for several days had been released. State department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed the news but could add no more details due to "privacy considerations".

'Snipers on rooftops'

On Friday, protesters took to the streets in Deraa, Qamishli, Hassakeh and also Latakia, witnesses said.

The marchers reportedly chanted "We want freedom" and "The blood of martyrs is not cheap".

One eyewitness in Deraa told the BBC that the army had used tear gas to disperse the crowds and several people had been injured.

Four people are said to have died when security forces opened fire on protesters in the Damascus suburb of Duma. Another report suggested as many as 10 people had been killed.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that snipers dressed in civilian clothes shot at people from rooftops.

Unrest was also reported in the central city of Homs.

Syria's Sana state-run news agency confirmed that protests were held in Deraa and Latakia, but said "there were no clashes".

The cities of Qamishli and Hassakeh are in the north-east of Syria. The region is the centre for the Kurdish population, who until now distanced themselves from the protests over the past two weeks, the BBC's Lina Sinjab in Damascus reports.

But in Qamishli and Hassakeh protesters chanted "Neither Arabic, nor Kurdish, we want a national unity" in an attempt to defeat any accusations of trying to make a Kurdish movement, our correspondent says.

She adds that in Damascus there is a heavy security presence around the main mosques - especially the Umayyad mosque where the first anti-government protest began.

Hundreds of security and pro-government gangs gathered around the mosque and later mixed with people praying inside.

The doors of the mosque were closed to prevent any protests, our correspondent says.

People are also reportedly locked in the al-Rifai mosque in Damascus, where some of the worshippers chanted "The one who kills his people is a traitor" and "We are all Syrians".

"We fear being arrested, we only want freedom for those who are detained. They (the government) have security and buses waiting for us outside," one worshipper told the BBC.

Activists and rights groups estimate that between 60 and 130 people have died in clashes in the past two weeks.

Government officials say the death toll is closer to 30.

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