Dozens of Protesters Killed by Security Forces in Syria

Syrian activists have called for daily protests against the regime after at least 32 people were killed Friday on the bloodiest day of demonstrations in the country's anti-government uprising that has spanned three weeks.

Most of the dead were reported in the restive southern city of Daraa, where burials were planned Saturday.

Syrian security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters across several cities Friday, according to Al-Jazeera.

Hundreds of others were wounded and residents were forced to turn mosques into makeshift hospitals, witnesses and a human rights group said.

Ammar Qurabi, who heads Syria's National Organization for Human Rights, said most of the deaths happened in Daraa, a restive southern city that has become a flashpoint for anti-government protests. Sixteen people were killed in Daraa, three in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, and one in the central city of Homs, he said.

The government acknowledged violence in Daraa, but said only two people died and blamed armed thugs.

Syria's state-run television claims that 19 police officers were killed in the violence in Daraa.

Security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition Friday as thousands of protesters gathered in Daraa. The city has become the epicenter of the country's protest movement.

"I saw pools of blood and three bodies in the street being picked up by relatives in the Mahatta area," a witness told Reuters.

Security forces attacked Sunni Muslim protesters with batons after they left a Damascus mosque, Reuters reports.

Syrian authorities also broke up a protest of nearly 2,000 people in the Sunni city of Hama, the site of the 1982 massacre, according to Reuters.

Like most activists and witnesses who spoke to The Associated Press, he requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Another activist in touch with protesters in the northeastern town of Amouda said a demonstration was starting there.

The reports could not be independently confirmed because Syria has restricted media access since the protests began three weeks ago. Human rights groups have said at least 100 people have been killed in the security crackdown.

Protest organizers have called on Syrians to take to the streets every Friday for the past three weeks, demanding reform in one of the most authoritarian nations in the Middle East. The protests have rattled the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for nearly 40 years.

Witnesses in several other cities across Syria also reported protests Friday. An eyewitness in the coastal city of Latakia said hundreds of people took part in a largely peaceful protest Friday calling for political freedoms.

"Peaceful, peaceful!" they shouted, marching past soldiers who were deployed in force in and around the religiously mixed city where clashes two weeks ago killed 12 people. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Activists said protests also erupted in the central cities of Homs and Hama, the coastal city of Banyas, the northern city of Aleppo and outside the capital, Damascus.

A video posted by activists on Facebook showed a crowd of people in the Damascus suburb of Harasta shouting "We want Freedom!" and "The Syrian people will not be humiliated." The footage could not be independently confirmed.

The Interior Ministry called on residents of Daraa not to provide shelter for the armed groups that opened fire on civilians and police and to provide authorities with any information they have about them.

Syria had appeared immune to the unrest sweeping the Arab world until three weeks ago, when security forces arrested a group of high school students who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall.

Protests then exploded in cities across the country.

Daraa is parched and impoverished, suffering sustained economic problems from a yearslong drought.

Assad has made a series of concessions to quell the violence, including sacking his Cabinet and firing two governors.

On Thursday, he granted citizenship to thousands of Kurds, fulfilling a decades-old demand of the country's long-ostracized minority. But the protest Friday in Amouda -- a Kurdish city -- suggested the population still was not satisfied.

An activist in Douma, a Damascus suburb where at least eight people were killed during protests last Friday, said he was expecting a large turnout Friday. Hundreds of activists and residents have met this week to prepare for the demonstration.

But telephone lines to Douma appeared to be cut Friday. Activists in Damascus, quoting people who came from Douma, said thousands of people were demonstrating outside the suburb's Grand Mosque.

Despite the regime's gestures, many Syrian activists remain skeptical about the regime's concessions and have called for much more concrete reforms, such as lifting the state of emergency, which has been in place since 1963 and gives the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.