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Syrian forces fire on funeral mourners

BY ZEINA KARAM

AND ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY

The Associated Press

BEIRUT -- Syrian security forces fired on mourners at a funeral for slain protesters yesterday as authorities vowed to crush any new unrest from a three-week uprising that showed no sign of letting up.

Even as the death toll topped 170, activists vowed to accelerate their movement with daily protests nationwide. They hope to bring new pressure on President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime.

Assad has answered the tens of thousands of protesters with both force and limited concessions that have failed to appease an emboldened movement inspired by the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

"Old-style crackdowns and techniques simply do not work anymore," said Aktham Nuaisse, a prominent Syrian pro-democracy activist. "The first thing authorities must do is stop this violence and enact serious reforms. Failing that, I fear everyone is going to lose control of the situation."

Protests erupted in Syria three weeks ago and have been growing steadily every week. They have even rattled the key port city of Latakia, in the heartland of the powerful Alawite minority religious sect, to which Assad and the ruling elite belong.

Early yesterday, security forces fired live ammunition to disperse hundreds of protesters in Latakia, witnesses said.

Friday marked what appeared to be the largest and most widespread gatherings so far with demonstrations across the nation demanding sweeping reforms -- and it brought the single bloodiest day of the uprising, with 37 killed around the country. Most of the deaths were in Daraa, an impoverished city near the Jordanian border that has become the epicenter of the protest movement.

Security forces in Daraa fired live ammunition yesterday to disperse a funeral march for the victims, wounding several people, said Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria's National Organization for Human Rights.

Qurabi, who lives in exile in Egypt, said his group's information came from residents and witnesses in the city.

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