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Hundreds Of Thousands Protest In Syria As 11 Reportedly Killed

Demonstrators march through the streets of Damascus on July 1.
In one of the biggest outpourings of anger yet in more than three months of protests, hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Syria today to call for an end to abuses under authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad.

According to activists, protesters massed after noon prayers in cities across the country in what they dubbed the "Friday of Departure.”

One estimate said the total number of total protesters neared the 500,000 mark.

Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees, which tracks the protests in Syria, said one of the largest rallies was held in the central city of Hama, attracting some 200,000 people.

Many chanted, "Bashar out! Syria Free!" and said they rejected Assad's promises of reform, national dialogue, and a new constitution.

Activists said at least 11 people were killed in various cities in the day’s clashes as state security forces opened fire.

The number of protesters and the death toll could not be immediately confirmed, as the Syrian government has barred most international journalists from entering the country.

Two deaths were reported in the capital, Damascus.

A video posted on the internet by one activist appeared to show hundreds who had gathered in the city’s suburbs to release red balloons, on which they wrote, "The people want to topple the regime."

The Local Coordination Committee’s Idilbi said at least three people were also killed in the city of Homs and that apparent regime supporters in civilian clothes wounded 12 others when they began stabbing protesters.

Security forces used reportedly used tear gas and electric batons to disperse 3,000 protesters in the commercial hub of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, Syrian state television offered a different story, airing footage of pro-government demonstrators in different part of the country carrying Syrian flags and posters of Assad.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, the London-based director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said three people were also killed today during a military operation seeking to choke off the flow of refugees heading across the border to Turkey.

More than 10,000 Syrians have already taken shelter in refugee camps in Turkey to escape the violence that erupted in mid-March.

Syrian activists say that since then, more than 1,300 have been killed, the majority of whom were unarmed protesters. At least 10,000 have reportedly been detained.

The regime disputes those figures, blaming "armed thugs" and foreign conspirators for the Arab Spring-style unrest that has posed the most serious challenge in four decades of the Assad family's rule.

Speaking today while on travel in Vilnius, Lithuania, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton predicted that resistance to the government would not relent until it changes course.

"[Syrian government leaders] are either going to allow a serious political process that will include peaceful protest to take place throughout Syria and engage in a productive dialogue with members of the opposition and civil society, or they are going to continue to see increasingly organized resistance," she said.

United States and European Union have imposed a series of sanctions on Assad and his top officials in response to the violent repression of the protests.

On June 29, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it was also imposing sanctions against Syria's security forces for human rights abuses and against Iran for supporting them.

Meanwhile, Russia, which has better relations with Damascus, has reserved harsh criticism of the regime.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated to reporters in Moscow today that Russia is against imposing a United Nations resolution on Syria drafted by France, Britain, and Germany that condemns the government for its brutal crackdown on dissent.

He said it was “unacceptable” for the Syrian opposition to ignore the government’s promises of reform.

"The [Syrian] opposition must abandon an absolutely uncompromising position, to abandon its rejection of any proposal made by the Syrian government and must move towards dialogue," he said.

In late April, Assad lifted Syria's nearly 50-year-long state of emergency and abolished a hated state security court.

The brutal crackdown on protesters has continued, however, and the opposition maintains that Assad’s promises are too little, too late.

written based on agency reports

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