Syrian forces shot dead at least 38 people when they moved in to disperse thousands who took to the streets for "Good Friday" protests to test long sought-after freedoms, sources said.
A day after President Bashar al-Assad scrapped decades of emergency rule, his forces fired live rounds at demonstrators in several towns and cities nationwide, witnesses and activists told AFP by telephone.
The official Sana news agency said security forces intervened using only tear gas and water cannon to "prevent clashes" between protesters and passers-by.
Friday's death toll was the bloodiest since protests for democratic change - the first since emergency rule was imposed by the ruling Baath Party when it seized power in 1963 - erupted in mid-March.
Dozens of people were also wounded when security forces opened fire with live rounds to disperse protesters, sources said.