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Syria protests continue despite attacks by security forces

Syria protests: Protesters have been attacked and shot by pro-government gunmen and security forces, but the government has been unable to quash the Syria protests.

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Syria protests: In this image made from television, demonstrators march in Daraa, Syria, Friday. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Daraa on Friday, a city in the south of Syria that has become a flashpoint for anti-government demonstrations.

AP

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Syrian security forces and pro-government gunmen killed four protesters Sunday in the port city of Banias after the army sealed off the city as hundreds of protesters gathered, undaunted by the regime's use of deadly force to quell more than three weeks of unrest, witnesses said.

Details were sketchy because telephone lines, Internet access and electricity apparently were cut to most parts of the city. Army tanks and soldiers circled the city, preventing people from entering.

But one witness, reached by telephone, said hundreds of protesters had gathered near the al-Rahman mosque when security forces and armed men in civilian clothes opened fire on them. The names of the dead were read out on mosque loudspeakers.

He said dozens of people were wounded, but most of them asked to be treated at a small clinic instead of at the main hospital, which was under the control of the feared security forces.

Like most eyewitnesses who spoke to The Associated Press, he requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from the government. Several other human rights activists, also citing witnesses, reported shooting in Banias on Sunday.

"There are demonstrations throughout the city and people are chanting against the regime," said Haitham al-Maleh, an 80-year-old lawyer and longtime rights activist who spent years as a political prisoner in Syria.

The accounts could not be independently confirmed. The government has placed severe restrictions on news coverage and many journalists — including from The Associated Press — have been ordered to leave the country.

Protests erupted in Syria more than three weeks ago and have been growing steadily every week, with tens of thousands of people calling for sweeping reforms in President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime.

More than 170 people have been killed, according to human rights groups.

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