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Six dead in port city as Syrian crisis grows
Syrian security forces have killed six people in two days of anti-government protests.
Deraa: Syrian security forces have killed six people in two days of anti-government protests in the key port city of Latakia, reformist activists living abroad told Reuters on Saturday.
President Bashar al-Assad, facing his deepest crisis in 11 years in power after security forces fired on protesters on Friday in the southern town of Deraa, freed 260 prisoners in an apparent bid to placate a swelling protest movement.
But the reports from Latakia, a security hub in the northwest, suggested unrest was still spreading.
There were reports of more than 20 deaths in protests on Friday, mainly in the south, and medical officials say dozens have now been killed over the past week around Deraa alone.
Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in this most tightly controlled of Arab countries.
Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior adviser to Assad, told the official news agency that Syria was "the target of a project to sow sectarian strife to compromise Syria and (its) unique coexistence model".
Syrian rights activist Ammar Qurabi told Reuters in Cairo: "There have been at least two killed (in Latakia) today after security forces opened fire on protesters trying to torch the Baath party building."
"I have been in touch with people in Syria since last night, using three cell phones and constantly sitting online. Events are moving at an extremely fast pace."
Exiled dissident Maamoun al-Homsi told Reuters by telephone from Canada: "I have the name of four martyrs who have fallen in Latakia yesterday."
The state news agency quoted a government source as saying security forces had not fired at protesters but that an armed group had taken over rooftops and fired on citizens and security forces, killing five people since Friday.
In Damascus and other cities, thousands of Assad's supporters marched or and drove around, waving flags, to proclaim their allegiance to the Baath party.
The unrest in Syria came to a head after police detained more than a dozen schoolchildren for scrawling graffiti inspired by pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.
President Assad made a public pledge on Thursday to look into granting greater freedom and lifting emergency laws dating back to 1963, but failed to dampen the protests.
On Saturday a human rights lawyer said 260 prisoners, mostly Islamists, had been freed after serving at least three-quarters of their sentences.