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Published: Saturday, 7/2/2011

14 people dead as protests surge in Syria


BEIRUT -- At least 14 people were killed as hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded cities in Syria Friday in what activists described as the largest outpouring against the regime of President Bashar Assad and a message of the opposition's resolve.

The rage -- flaring in dozens of places at the same time -- added to the strain on the military and security forces as they also tried to cut off a wave of refugees from rolling into Turkey.

The centerpiece of the latest protests -- the central city of Hama -- adds complications for the government.

Security forces moved outside Hama in early June after shootings that killed 65 people. Now the streets of the city appear fully under the sway of the opposition with an estimated 300,000 people gathering Friday in the central square, activists said.

Crowd estimates and other details cannot be independently verified because the Syrian government has banned most foreign media from the country and restricted coverage. But the protest surge appeared to dwarf recent weeks as Mr. Assad's forces tried to wear down the opposition with relentless force.

Syrian rights groups say more than 1,400 people have been killed, most of them unarmed protesters, since mid-March.

The regime disputes the toll, blaming "armed thugs" and foreign conspirators for the unrest that has posed the most serious challenge to the Assad family's 40-year dynasty in Syria.

In Lithuania, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Assad regime either to begin a process of credible political reforms or "continue to see increasingly organized resistance."

"It doesn't appear that there's a coherent and consistent message coming from Syria," she said.

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