Syria troops 'kill 17' at protests
Syrian security forces have reportedly killed at least 17 protesters as hundreds of thousands flooded the streets across the country in the largest anti-government demonstrations since the uprising began more than four months ago.
In a significant show of the uprising's strength, thousands of protesters turned out in the capital Damascus, the seat of the regime's power, which has been relatively quiet so far.
The crowds also took to the streets in areas where the government crackdown has been most intense, a sign that president Bashar Assad's forces cannot smother the increasingly defiant uprising.
The protests stretched from Damascus and its suburbs to Hasakeh and Idlib provinces in the north, Daraa in the south and Latakia on the coast. Thousands converged on the flashpoint cities of Homs and Hama in central Syria, among other areas across the nation of 22 million.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Assad "has lost his legitimacy in the eyes of his people" because of the crackdown.
While stressing the Syrian people should decide their own future, Ms Clinton added: "I think we all share the same opinion that what we are seeing from the Assad regime is a barrage of words, false promises and accusations is not being translated into any path forward for the Syrian people."
The reported casualties included nine people in Damascus, two in the Damascus suburb of Douma, three in the north-western city of Idlib, one in the central city of Homs and two in Daraa in the south, according to local co-ordinating committees, which have a network of sources on the ground.
Activists say the government crackdown on dissent has killed some 1,600 people, most of them unarmed protesters. The government disputes the toll and blames the bloodshed on gangs and a foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian strife in Syria.
State-run Syrian TV said gunmen opened fire at demonstrators and security forces, killing a civilian in Idlib, another in the Damascus neighbourhood of Qaboun and a police officer in Homs. The report added that eight policemen were wounded in Homs as well.
Syria has banned most foreign media and placed tight restrictions on reporters, making it difficult to independently confirm accounts out of Syria.