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Two killed as thousands of Syrians protest

world Updated: Aug 29, 2011 07:57 IST

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Syrian security forces fired on thousands of anti-government protesters on Friday, killing at least two people as activists called for "patience and determination" more than five months into the country's uprising, witnesses and rights groups said.

The protests came on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, a time when many protesters hoped would serve as a breaking point for the authoritarian regime of President Bashar Assad. Instead, the government's crackdown has intensified dramatically.

Human rights groups say Assad's forces have killed more than 2,000 people since the uprising against his autocratic rule erupted in mid-March, touched off by the wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab world.

The Local Coordination Committees, an activist group that helps organise the protests, said at least two people were killed Friday in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour. Other activists confirmed the toll.

Protests also were reported in Idlib province near Turkey and the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, along with sweeping arrests.

Activists chose "patience and determination" as the theme of Friday's protests across Syria.

The crackdown has led to broad condemnation and sanctions.

Assad has shrugged off the calls for him to step down, insisting that religious extremists and thugs are driving the violence, not true reform-seekers.

Assad has exploited fears of chaos in Syria, with the regime portraying him as the only man who can guarantee peace in a country with a potentially volatile mix of religious groups.

The opposition, however, says the protest movement is free of sectarian overtones and is simply demanding freedom and democracy.