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Syrians continue to protest as uneasy ceasefire holds

Tens of thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets for anti-government protests in the first major challenge to the country's 48-hours-old ceasefire, which for a second day witnessed isolated outbreaks of violence.

world Updated: Apr 14, 2012 23:13 IST

Tens of thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets for anti-government protests in the first major challenge to the country's 48-hours-old ceasefire, which for a second day witnessed isolated outbreaks of violence.

The demonstrations on Friday came as the UN security council prepared to approve the dispatch of the first group of monitors to Syria. They are expected to arrive in the country as early as next week.

An advance team of UN observers is poised to enter Syria if and when the security council gives the green light for its deployment, while a larger contingent of up to 250 observers could be approved next week if the truce holds.

France called for the creation of aid corridors to help Syrians escape "massacres", saying a UN-brokered ceasefire offered an opportunity to put the humanitarian measures in place.

President Bashar al-Assad's opponents had called for mass demonstrations to test whether the authorities would tolerate a return to peaceful protests, as the joint Arab League-UN envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan said they should.

But rallies videoed by activists were far smaller than the huge, chanting crowds seen in major cities at the start of the uprising 13 months ago and on several occasions in 2011.

International pressure has grown for Syria to fulfil all its commitments to the former UN chief by withdrawing troops and heavy weapons.

Instead, Syrian forces appeared to tighten security around public squares and outside mosques. According to activists, security forces used live fire, teargas and beat protesters to prevent them gathering. They said at least three protesters were shot dead.