At least 72 protesters have been killed by security forces in Syria, rights groups say – the highest reported death toll in five weeks of unrest there.
Demonstrators were shot, witnesses say, as thousands rallied across the country, a day after a decades-long state of emergency was lifted.
Many deaths reportedly occurred in a village near Deraa in the south, and in a suburb of the capital, Damascus.
The US White House urged the government to stop attacking demonstrators.
Spokesman Jay Carney said it should “cease and desist in the use of violence against protesters” and follow through on promised reforms.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “extremely concerned” by reports of deaths and casualties across Syria and urged restraint on the country’s authorities.
“Political reforms should be brought forward and implemented without delay,” he said. “The Emergency Law should be lifted in practice, not just in word.”
Protesters – said to number tens of thousands – chanted for the overthrow of the regime, Reuters news agency reports.
Video images coming out of Syria show footage of many confrontations where live ammunition was used.
President Bashar al-Assad’s lifting of the emergency had been seen as a concession to the protesters.
In their first joint statement since the protests broke out, activists co-ordinating the mass demonstrations demanded the establishment of a democratic political system.
Political unrest in Syria developed after revolts elsewhere in the Arab world, which saw the downfall of the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents and an ongoing civil war in Libya.
At least 260 people are said to have died since it began last month.
‘Rain of bullets’ …
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