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Syria protesters clash with police

Security forces fired tear gas and beat protesters with batons as tens of thousands of people marched towards the centre of the Syrian capital demanding far greater reforms than the limited concessions offered by President Bashar Assad.

The violence in the Damascus suburb of Douma was the only major unrest reported during protests in several Syrian cities.

But the attempt to reach the capital was a bold action by a protest movement that has mostly stayed outside Damascus so far.

The protesters in Douma held up yellow cards, which they said was a soccer-inspired warning to the regime. "This is our first warning, next time we will come with the red cards," said one protester who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone. He asked that his name not be used because of fears for his personal safety.

The month-long protest movement in Syria has steadily gathered momentum as tens of thousands of people demand sweeping reforms in Assad's authoritarian regime.

More than 200 people have been killed during the government crackdown on protesters, according to Syria's main pro-democracy group.

The crowds gathered in several Syrian cities chanting Freedom!" and demanding an end to the decades-old emergency laws, which allow the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge. Lifting the state of emergency has been a key demand of the protesters.

The largest protests were in Douma and in the southern city of Daraa, which has become the epicentre of the protest movement. Witnesses said there were up to 100,000 people outside the capital and at least 20,000 in Daraa.

It was impossible to independently verify the witness accounts because Syria has placed tight restrictions on media coverage.

There was no immediate sign of army and security services in Daraa - a stark change from previous weeks, when Syrian forces fired tear gas and live bullets at the protesters.

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