7 dead as Syrian forces open fire

7 dead as Syrian forces open fire

The bloodshed came as President Bashar Assad’s regime sought to counter a 3-month-old pro-democracy uprising with mass demonstrations.

The Local Coordinating Committees, which track the Syrian protest movement, said a 13-year-old boy was killed when security forces opened fire on antigovernment protesters in a main square in the central city of Hama.

Three other people were killed in Homs, central Syria, and three in the Mayadin district in the eastern city of Deir el Zour during pro and anti-regime demonstrations. The two sides have clashed in the past, but Tuesday's bloodshed appeared to be the worst such violence.

“We are seeing an escalation by authorities today,” said Omar Idilbi, spokesman for the committees. “They are sending pro-government thugs along with security forces to attack protesters.”

Tens of thousands of people waving flags and pictures of Assad converged on squares in several major cities on Tuesday, a day after he offered a vague plan for political reform in a speech that was rejected by opposition supporters, who took to the streets shouting, “Liar!” He had shown no sign of readiness to end his family’s long political domination in Syria, a key opposition demand.

An eyewitness in Homs said a pro-Assad protest with some 10,000 participants “descended” on the city on Tuesday. “Nobody knows them, they are strangers to the city, they were asking for directions.” Anti-government demonstrators then emerged in Homs neighbourhoods, gunfire broke out, and several people were killed.

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