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At Least 12 Killed As Troops Reportedly Target Syrian Funeral Crowds

Antigovernment protesters take part in a demonstration in the northeastern city of Banias on April 22.
At least 12 people have reportedly been shot dead in Syria as security forces opened fire on people attending funerals for the dozens of antigovernment protesters killed on April 22.

Witnesses say snipers fired at a large crowd of mourners on April 23 from rooftops as a funeral procession made its way to a cemetery in Douma, a suburb of the capital, Damascus. There were also attacks on mourners in the city's Barzeh district. Both incidents reportedly left a total of at least seven people dead.

Syrian activists say another funeral crowd was targeted by security forces in the southern village of Ezra, where at least five people were reportedly shot dead.

It is difficult to independently verify the reports because international journalists have been expelled from Syria.

According to activists, Syrian security forces were trying to prevent people from staging fresh protests after the funerals.

Earlier, Reuters quoted a Syrian rights activist as saying that "the funerals will turn into vehement protests, like past funerals."

According to Reuters, security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad have killed at least 112 people in the past two days after opening fire on protesters demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption on April 22, and doing so once more at mass funerals for victims a day later.

The violence has drawn international condemnation.

U.S. President Barack Obama denounced Syria's "outrageous use of violence to quell protests [on April 22]" and said such actions "must come to an end now."

"Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies," Obama said in a statement.

A Syrian government source was quoted by Reuters as saying that Obama's statement "was not based on objective vision."

Elsewhere, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a transparent, independent investigation of the killings of demonstrators.

He also told the Syrian government to "respect international human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as the freedom of press."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the "unacceptable killing of demonstrators by the Syrian security forces."

European Parliament chief Jerzy Buzek also condemned the violence in Syria.

Demonstrators rally in Jasim on April 22=
Too Little, Too Late

The deadly April 22 crackdown came a day after Assad introduced concessions meant to quell the tide of discontent against his rule but which opponents derided as inadequate.

They included the end to a notorious state of emergency that has existed for nearly half a century and also conceded people's right to seek permission to stage peaceful protests.

However, opponents signaled that this was no longer sufficient. Ahead of the April 22 gatherings, an umbrella group representing the protesters issued a statement demanding a "rapid reformulation of our national institutions."

The statement -- issued in the name of "Syrian local organizing committees" -- demanded an end to torture, killings, arrests, and violence against demonstrators as well as three days of state-sanctioned mourning for those killed so far.

It also called for the release of all political prisoners and an independent inquiry into the death of protesters.

Most radical of all, it called for drastic constitutional reform that would limit presidents to two terms. Assad has been president for 11 years, having inherited the post on the death in 2000 of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for the previous 30 years.

Around 350 people are now believed to have been killed in five weeks of demonstrations against what is considered one of the Middle East's most autocratic states.

compiled from agency reports