BEIRUT (AP) — Thousands of people gathered for funerals in Syria on Saturday, draping bodies in white cloth to prepare them for burial after security forces killed more than 75 people in the deadliest day of the uprising against authoritarian President Bashar Assad.
About 5,000 people were gathering near the Osman Ibin Afan mosque in Izraa, a southern village that was the scene of some of the worst violence Friday, witnesses said. Fifteen corpses were to be buried after the noon prayers.
Syrian security forces fired bullets and tear gas Friday at tens of thousands of protesters across the country, in a clear sign that regime was prepared to escalate an already bloody response to more than five weeks of unrest. Some 300 people have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the violence was "outrageous" and called on Assad to obey the will of his people by giving them freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and the ability to choose their leaders.
Among those killed Friday were a 70-year-old man and two boys ages 7 and 10, according to Amnesty International.
The scenes of carnage were posted on the protest movement's main Facebook page.
In Izraa, a man ran through the streets carrying the body of a young boy, whose hair was matted with blood from a gaping wound on his head, as another child wept and shouted, "My brother!"
Six Syrian human rights groups said security forces had killed 76 protesters in different parts of the country Friday. The groups, including the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, called on the government to set up a judicial investigation committee to try those who shot at protesters and to release all political detainees.
The highest tolls were in the central city of Homs, where 19 people were killed, and in Izraa, where 18 were shot dead, the human rights groups said.
In the Damascus suburb of Douma, hundreds of people gathered near Hamdan hospital where the body of at least one person was to be taken to the area's Grand Mosque for prayers, a witness said.
He added that most shops were closed with little security presence in the area.
It was not clear if the little security presence was an attempt to avoid a new confrontation with protesters Saturday.
Saturday's witness accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria has expelled journalists and restricted access to trouble spots. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The bloodshed so far has only served to invigorate protesters whose demands have snowballed from modest reforms to the downfall of the 40-year Assad family dynasty. Each Friday, growing numbers of people in multiple cities have taken to the streets despite the near certainty that they would come under swift attack from security forces and shadowy pro-government gunmen known as "shabiha."
Besides the government crackdown, Assad has been trying to defuse the protests by offering a series of concessions, granting citizenship to thousands among Syria's long-ostracized Kurdish minority, firing local officials, releasing detainees and forming a new government. The recent lifting of emergency laws — which gave authorities almost boundless powers of surveillance and arrest — had been a top demand.
But many protesters said the concessions have come too late — and that Assad does not even deserve the credit, because the protest movement is forcing his hand.
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