BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian security forces shot dead dozens of protesters on Friday, rights activists said, the bloodiest day in a month of escalating demonstrations against the rule of President Bashar Assad.
Activists coordinating demonstrations said 88 civilians were killed. The Local Coordination Committees sent Reuters a list with names of 88 people classified by region that the group said were killed in areas stretching from the port city of Latakia to Homs, Hama, Damascus and the southern village of Izra'a.
Protesters flooded into the streets after Muslim prayers in at least nine major areas across the country, a sign that Assad's attempts to quell the monthlong protests with a deadly crackdown and promises of reform have all but failed.
"Bullets started flying over our heads like heavy rain," said one witness in Izraa, a southern village in Daraa province, the same region where the uprising kicked off in mid-March.
The protest movement has been the gravest challenge against the autocratic regime led by Assad, who inherited power from his father 11 years ago in one of the most rigidly controlled countries in the Middle East.
In the southern province of Daraa, witnesses told the AP that at least 10 people were killed when protesters marched in front of the mayor's office. They said an 11-year-old boy was among the dead. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The White House called Syria's use of violence to quell protests "outrageous" and said it must "come to an end now."
"Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies. We call on President Assad to change course now, and heed the calls of his own people," said the White House.
In earlier developments, Al-Jazeera's live blog of Friday's events in Syria rapidly became a list of places and numbers of people said to have been killed. It said it could not independently verify the reports.
"Our regime is the most brutal and scary in the Middle East," one of the protesters in Damascus said. "It has no values and can easily kill its own people. Rather than firing bullets they should open their eyes and their hearts to the Syrian people."
'God will have his revenge'
Another protester said an imam had said during prayers that "whoever does this killing, God will have his revenge upon."
In the city of Hama security forces fired at protesters to prevent them from reaching a ruling Baath Party headquarters, according to witness.
"We saw two snipers on the building. None of us had weapons. There are casualties, possibly two dead," the witness, a human rights campaigner who was at the protest, told Reuters.
In Douma, a Damascus suburb, security forces opened fire after some 40,000 people took to the streets. Witnesses said four people were wounded there.
"The people want the downfall of the regime!" shouted the protesters.
Friday's witness accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria has expelled journalists and restricted access to trouble spots. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
White House officials urged the government to "cease and desist" its violence against protesters and called on Damascus to follow through on their promised reforms.
Meanwhile, in the first joint statement since the protests broke out, activists coordinating the mass demonstrations demanded Friday the abolition of Baath Party monopoly on power and the establishment of a democratic political system.
"All prisoners of conscience must be freed. The existing security apparatus has to be dismantled and replaced by one with specific jurisdiction and which operates according to law," they said in the statement, which was sent to Reuters.
The protest movement has crossed a significant threshold in recent days, with increasing numbers now seeking the downfall of the regime, not just reforms.
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The security crackdown has only emboldened protesters, who are enraged over the deaths of more than 200 people over five weeks.
Series of concessions
Activists promised that Friday's protests will be the biggest rallies yet against the regime led by Assad, who inherited power from his father 11 years ago in one of the most authoritarian countries in the Middle East.
The president has been trying to defuse the protests by launching a bloody crackdown along with a series of concessions, most recently lifting emergency laws that gave authorities almost boundless powers of surveillance and arrest.
He also has fulfilled a decades-old demand by granting citizenship to thousands among Syria's long-ostracized Kurdish minority, fired local officials, released detainees and formed a new government.
But many protesters said the concessions have come too late — and that Assad does not deserve the credit.
"The state of emergency was brought down, not lifted," prominent Syrian activist Suhair Atassi, who has been arrested several times in the past, wrote on her Twitter page.
"It is a victory as a result of demonstrations, protests and the blood of martyrs who called for Syria's freedom," she added.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.