Massif Gunfire in locked-down Syrian city of Hams (Al Jazeera)

Reports of shooting as thousands protest in Homs while Syrian government claims country is facing “armed insurrection”.

Gunfire has been heard in the Syrian city of Homs where thousands have gathered in the main square a day after activists said at least 25 people were killed there.

An activist on the ground told Al Jazeera that security forces had opened fire on protesters.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Damascus, Cal Perry, said tear gas had also reportedly been used. Homs had been shut down by the army with three rings

posted on Twitter by Shantal7afana, purportedly shows protesters gathered on Monday night in Homs.

of checkpoints surrounding the city, our correspondent added.

The latest anti-government protests come as Syria‘s interior ministry on Monday night said the country was facing an “armed insurrection”.

“Some of these groups have called for armed insurrection under the motto of Jihad to set up a Salafist state,” the ministry said in a statement, according to the Reuters news agency.

“What they did is an ugly crime severely punished by law. Their objective is to spread terror across Syria”

A protester who gave his name as Rami told Al Jazeera that tens of thousands people were staging a sit-in in the centre of Homs and would “continue to protest until the regime is overthrown”.

Suhair Atassi, a prominent rights activist, said 10,000 people were at the square late on Monday night.

Some tents were raised and protesters said they had renamed the Al-Saa (Clock) Square ‘Tahrir Square”, in reference to the focal point of the uprising in Egypt which led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

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Earlier in the day, thousands attended the funerals for protesters killed in Homs, shouting slogans against Bashar al-Assad, the country’s president.

Witnesses said mourners chanted “From alleyway to alleyway, from house to house, we want to overthrow you, Bashar,” and “Either freedom or death, the people want to topple this regime”.

Monday’s protests were the largest to hit the strategically important city, Syria’s third largest, since protests in the country began one month ago.

“I’m 45 years old. It’s the first time in my life I break the barrier of silence, the first time I feel freedom,” a protester who gave his name as Abu Omar told Al Jazeera.

“The regime does not wish us to enjoy freedom or dignity. For decades we’ve been ruled by an iron fist, by the force of weapon.”

Demonstrations were also reported in the southern city of Daraa, in the Barzeh district of the capital, Damascus, and in Ain al-Arab in the mainly Kurdish north. About 1,500 people gathered at the Shaghour bridge between Aleppo and Latakia in the morning.

Homs violence

A protester in Homs told Al Jazeera that protesters were killed after evening prayers on Sunday when a group of around 40 demonstrators gathered outside the Bab al-Sibaa mosque chanting “freedom”.

The protester, who gave his name as Abu Haider, said seven cars pulled up to the protesters and men in civilian clothes jumped out and opened fire on the crowd without warning.

Pictures were posted online of people praying in
a square in Homs on Monday [Twitpic-Shantal7afana]

“First we were calling for reforms, now we’re calling for regime change,” he said. “No one will accept the death of the martyrs.”

The nearby town of Talbiseh, where activists said five people were killed on Sunday, was sealed off by government forces on Monday.

The government and the opposition were trading blame over the heightened tensions and deadly clashes.

The interior ministry said “the latest developments in several Syrian provinces such as the killing of policemen, army soldiers and civilians and terrifying people are all armed mutiny led by Salafi armed groups”, according to a statement quoted by the official news agency.

“The ministry called on the citizens to tell about the whereabouts of terrorists and suspects and not allow them to exploit the freedom atmosphere to shed blood and corrupt public and private properties,” SANA reported.

Walid al-Muallem, the foreign minister, met foreign ambassadors earlier in the day and told them that reforms are on their way and that peaceful protest will be tolerated, but not destruction of government properties and other disruptive behaviour.

The latest developments came two days after Assad said Syria’s decades-long emergency laws would be liftedwithin a week and also promised a number of other reforms.

Despite the apparent concessions, nationwide protests were held on Sunday, which was Syria’s Independence Day, commemorating the departure of the last French soldier 65 years ago.

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