WORLD -- March 25, 2011 at 12:11 PM EDT
Gunfire Reported in Protests in Syria, Government Promises Reforms
Hundreds of Syrians march from the Omayyed mosque in Damascus' Old City toward Souk Al-Hamadiyeh street on Friday, chanting: 'Daraa is Syria' and 'We will sacrifice ourselves for Syria.' (AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters in the Southern Syrian city of Daraa have reportedly been fired on by government troops, according to Associated Press reports, as thousands of demonstrators marched in cities across the country Friday. Unrest has been growing in recent days despite promised reforms by the government, such as lifting a state of emergency that has been in effect for decades and an increase in the salary of government workers.
Public funeral services appeared to fuel the protesters' anger. There is no confirmed death toll from the violence in recent days.
Although Daraa appeared to be the epicenter of the demonstrations, there were also scattered protests in the capital, Damascus, following Friday prayers.
A White House statement Thursday called on the Syrian government to cease "brutal repression of demonstrations, in particular the violence and killings of civilians at the hands of security forces."
President Bashar Assad, 45, who assumed power when his father died in 2000, has been in office for 11 years. He has been criticized for not implementing promised freedoms. A spokesman for his office indicated that foreign involvement may be to blame for the upheaval in the southern part of the country. Daraa is located near the border with Jordan; the Jordanian government rejected any suggestion of cross-border interference.
Assad has ordered some prisoners who were arrested earlier in the week to be released, and has expressed regret for the firing of live ammunition by security forces.