01/04/2011 - Anti-government protesters holding signs reading "We only love freedom" marched the streets in several cities [AFP]
Several deaths have been reported in another day of anti-government protests in several Syrian cities, activists have said.
Protest marches against Baath Party rule broke out in cities in the north and south after Friday prayers, including in the flashpoint city of Daraa.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in and around the capital, Damascus, on Friday afternoon as security forces and ruling party loyalists attacked protesters with batons in Rifaii mosque in the city.
Syrian forces reportedly fired tear gas at protesters in the suburb of Douma, and in the coastal cities of Latakia and Banias.
Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Damascus, said at least four people were killed in the afternoon after government forces started using live fire against protesters in Douma.
"Some protesters told us they were there chanting for freedom peacefully," she said.
"The security forces in plain clothes tried to disperse them with sticks ... people started running into the alleys, and then the security forces started shooting at them."
..For the first time, the government acknowledged there were pro-reform demonstrations in cities, but said there was no friction between security forces and protesters.
..Protest organisers quoted by the AFP news agency said rallies were also being staged for the first time in the mainly Kurdish-populated northeast.
"Several hundred people marched peacefully in the streets of Qamishli and Amuda … chanting 'we don't only want citizenship but freedom as well'," Radif Mustafa, a Kurdish rights activist, told AFP.
..Activists estimate more than 160 people have been killed by security forces in the protests - dubbed "Friday of Martyrs" after weekly Muslim prayers across Syria - mainly in Daraa.
..Emergency law was imposed following the Baath Party coup that brought Hafez al-Assad to power in 1970 and has remained in place ever since.
The popular protests were sparked off by the arrest of several teenagers who wrote anti-government graffiti on walls in the southern city of Daraa. The rallies spread to other parts of the country last week.