Rights Group Raises Friday Toll in Syria to 44 (AP)

By BASSEM MROUE Associated Press
BEIRUT May 21, 2011 (AP)

The Syrian Security forces crackdown on protesters in different parts of the country left at least 44 people dead on Friday, making it one of the deadliest days since an uprising against President Bashar Assad‘s regime began two months ago, a rights group said Saturday.

Syria, meanwhile, blamed “armed groups” for the casualties and put the toll at 17.

The National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, whose leader Ammar Qurabi is currently in Turkey, said most of the deaths occurred in the northern province of Idlib and the central region of Homs.

On Friday, thousands of Syrians defied an unrelenting government crackdown and flooded the streets across the country to buttress their two-month uprising against the country’s authoritarian regime. Authorities responded with live ammunition, causing the large number of casualties, right groups say.

The latest deaths bring to at least 900 the number of civilians killed since the uprising began, according to human rights group tallies.

A lower toll from the latest clashes came from Syria’s state-run news agency, SANA.

Army Tanks line up on the Syrian Lebanese border AP

SANA said Saturday that “armed groups who took advantage of peaceful gatherings” shot dead 17 civilians, policemen and members of the military on Friday in Idlib and Homs.

SANA quoted an unnamed Interior Ministry official as saying an armed group also attacked several police stations and vehicles in Homs and Idlib.

The government repeatedly has blamed the unrest on armed gangs — not true reform-seekers.

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