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Test of Wills in Syria as Forces Open Fire in Several Cities

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Security forces in Syria fired tear gas and live ammunition Friday to disperse thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets of Damascus and at least 10 other towns and cities after noon prayers, according to protesters, witnesses and accounts posted on social networking sites. Twenty-four people were killed, they said, though it was not possible to immediately verify that toll.
The breadth of the protests — and people’s willingness to defy security forces who deployed en masse — painted a tableau of turmoil in one of the Arab world’s most repressive countries. In scenes unprecedented only weeks ago, protesters tore down pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and toppled statues of his father, Hafez, in two towns on the capital’s outskirts, according to witnesses and video footage.

In the capital, a city that underlines the very prestige of the Assad family’s four decades of rule, hundreds gathered after prayers at Al Hassan Mosque. Some of them chanted, “The people want the fall of the government,” a slogan made famous in Egypt and Tunisia. Security forces quickly dispersed the protests with tear gas, witnesses said.


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