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Fri, 25 Mar 2011 14:25 - Updated Fri, 25 Mar 2011 14:25

Syrians mass for demos; reporters banned from city

DARAA

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   DARAA – Protesters shouting for freedom gathered in the capital and other areas around the country Friday as security forces ordered journalists to leave a southern city where a brutal weeklong siege on demonstrations killed dozens of people.

Daraa, the main city of southern Syria's drought-parched agricultural heartland, has become a flashpoint for protests in a country whose leadership stands unafraid of using extreme violence to quash internal unrest. The coming days will be a crucial test of the surge of popular discontent that has unseated autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and threatens to push several others from power.

Sheltering in Daraa's Roman-era old city, the protesters have persisted through seven days of increasing violence by security forces, but have not inspired significant unrest in other parts of the country.

On Friday, demonstrations were planned in Daraa and throughout the country in what organizers called a "Day of Dignity."

After the Friday prayers in the village of Dael, near Daraa, men on motorcycles and cars honked their horns while a few hundred men marched, some of them carrying Syrian flags and chanting: "Dael and Daraa will not be humilitated!" Plainclothes security agents watched without interfering.

A human rights activists, quoting witnesses, said thousands of people were gathering in the town of Douma outside the capital, pledging support for the people of Daraa. The activists asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

In the capital, outside Damascus' famous Ummayad Mosque, scores of people were gathering.