President Bashar al-Assad faced the deepest crisis of his 11 years in power on Saturday, with one city in the grip of anti-government protesters and unrest spreading to other parts of Syria.
Dozens of people have been killed over the past week around Deraa, medical officials have said, and there were reports of more than 20 new deaths on Friday, during demonstrations in this most tightly controlled of Arab countries.
There were also protests in the capital Damascus and in Hama.Government officials accused armed opponents of taking part in demonstrations and said the use of force was justified. Access for journalists was restricted, although a Reuters reporter in Deraa said tens of thousands of people who marched on Friday during funerals for demonstrators killed earlier in the week appeared largely to be unarmed.
Protests in south Syria
Protesters in the southern town of Tafas torched an office of the ruling Baath party, a rights activist at the scene said.
Thousands of people hit the streets in Tafas setting fire to the local Baath party headquarters and a police station, chanting slogans "hostile to the regime," the activist said by telephone. The protesters had gathered for the burial of three demonstrators killed by security forces in rallies on Friday.
The Syrian protests have been inspired by uprisings against authoritarian rule in Egypt and Tunisia.