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Syria forces fire on funeral march

Syrian security forces have fired live ammunition to disperse a funeral march for some of the 37 people killed a day earlier in the single bloodiest day of the country's three-week anti-government uprising.

Several people were wounded in the shooting in Daraa, said Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria's National Organisation for Human Rights. The group's information was from residents and witnesses in the city.

Telephone calls to Daraa were not going through, and the Syrian government has placed severe restrictions on media coverage in the country.

Daraa has become a flash point for violence, which the government blames on armed gangs rather than true reform-seekers.

Still, the calls for political reform have shaken President Bashar Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.

As the wave of protests gathers steam, Assad has offered some concessions such as firing local officials and forming committees to look into replacing the country's despised emergency laws.

He referred fired Daraa governor Faisal Kalthoum and former security officer Atef Najib to court to investigate their role in igniting and handling protests in the city, a security official said. Assad had fired Kalthoum on March 23.

But those gestures have failed to appease a growing movement that is raising the ceiling on its demands for concrete reforms and free elections.

On Friday, witnesses said security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters in Daraa, killing 25 people and wounding hundreds. The government gave a different account, saying 19 policemen and members of the security forces as well as a number of civilians were killed when gunmen opened fire on them.

The differing accounts could not be independently verified. But it was the first significant claim of casualties by the government and could signal plans for a stronger crackdown.

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