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Syrian forces kill six protesters

Syrian security forces have opened fire on protesters, killing at least six people, as thousands rallied across the country to call for the downfall of President Bashar Assad's regime.

Troops also clashed with armed anti-regime forces in central regions for a third straight day.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said six people were killed in the central cities of Hama and Homs as well as the central town of Rastan, where the clashes between troops and army defectors have been raging for days. Syria-based rights activist Mustafa Osso put the death toll at 11.

The protests spread from the capital, Damascus, and its suburbs to the southern province of Daraa, the north-western province of Idlib as well as Hama and Homs.

Many of the protesters expressed solidarity with residents of the rebellious town of Rastan just north of Homs.

Amateur videos posted online by activists showed thousands of people shouting in support of the rebellion in Rastan.

"Rastan will overthrow the regime," read one banner waved by protesters in the Damascus neighbourhood of Qadam. Many of the protesters there covered their faces with scarves or masks to hide their identities.

The Syrian government has banned foreign journalists and placed heavy restrictions on local media coverage, making it difficult to independently verify events on the ground.

A military official said that two days of clashes between Syrian troops and anti-Assad forces in Rastan killed seven soldiers and policemen.

The official said 32 Syrian troops were also wounded in the fighting as government forces conducted a "qualitative" operation in an effort to crush "gunmen" holed up inside the town. The government describes its armed opponents there as "terrorist armed groups," not army defectors.

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