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Government, protesters clash in Syria coastal city

 Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protester, holds an Arabic palcard read:"I love you from my heart Bashar Syria," during a pro-Assad demonstration, ...
 Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protester, shouts pro-Assad slogans during a demonstration, in Damascus, Syria, on Friday March 25, 2011. Outside D...
 Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protesters, stand outside their cars wave syrian flags and Assad's posters during a demonstration, in Damascus, Syr...
 Syrian army soldiers, sit outside their windows bus shout pro-Assad slogans during a demonstration, in Damascus, Syria, on Friday, March 25, 2011. Ou...
 Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protesters, shout pro-Assad slogans and hold his posters as they wave Syrian flag during a demonstration, in Damasc...
 Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protesters, hold up posters of Bashar Assad during a demonstration, in Damascus, Syria, on Friday March 25, 2011. O...
 Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protester, protets during a pro-Assad demonstration, in Damascus, Syria, on Friday, March 25, 2011. Outside Damascu...
 Anti-Syrian government protesters, shout slogans as they protest after Friday prayers at Omayyad mosque, in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. ...
 Anti-Syrian government protesters shout slogans as they protest after Friday prayers at Omayyad Mosque, in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. T...
 Anti-Syrian government protesters, shout slogans as they protest after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands of Syrian...
 Anti-Syrian government protesters shout slogans as they protest after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands of Syrians...
 Syrians anti and pro-Assad protesters clash after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands of Syrians took to the streets...
 Anti-Syrian government protesters, left, and pro-government, right, clash after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands ...
 Anti-Syrian government protesters, left, and pro-government, right, clash after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands ...
 Anti-Syrian government protesters, left, and pro-government, right, clash after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands ...

Mideast Syria

Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protester, holds an Arabic palcard read:"I love you from my heart Bashar Syria," during a pro-Assad demonstration, ...

Mideast Syria

Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protester, shouts pro-Assad slogans during a demonstration, in Damascus, Syria, on Friday March 25, 2011. Outside D...

Mideast Syria

Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protesters, stand outside their cars wave syrian flags and Assad's posters during a demonstration, in Damascus, Syr...

Mideast Syria

Syrian army soldiers, sit outside their windows bus shout pro-Assad slogans during a demonstration, in Damascus, Syria, on Friday, March 25, 2011. Ou...

Mideast Syria

Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protesters, shout pro-Assad slogans and hold his posters as they wave Syrian flag during a demonstration, in Damasc...

Mideast Syria

Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protesters, hold up posters of Bashar Assad during a demonstration, in Damascus, Syria, on Friday March 25, 2011. O...

Mideast Syria

Pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad protester, protets during a pro-Assad demonstration, in Damascus, Syria, on Friday, March 25, 2011. Outside Damascu...

Mideast Syria

Anti-Syrian government protesters, shout slogans as they protest after Friday prayers at Omayyad mosque, in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. ...

Mideast Syria

Anti-Syrian government protesters shout slogans as they protest after Friday prayers at Omayyad Mosque, in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. T...

Mideast Syria

Anti-Syrian government protesters, shout slogans as they protest after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands of Syrian...

Mideast Syria

Anti-Syrian government protesters shout slogans as they protest after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands of Syrians...

Mideast Syria

Syrians anti and pro-Assad protesters clash after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands of Syrians took to the streets...

Mideast Syria

Anti-Syrian government protesters, left, and pro-government, right, clash after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands ...

Mideast Syria

Anti-Syrian government protesters, left, and pro-government, right, clash after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands ...

Mideast Syria

Anti-Syrian government protesters, left, and pro-government, right, clash after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, Friday, March 25, 2011. Thousands ...

Protesters and Syrian government forces clashed Saturday in the coastal city of Latakia, where demonstrators set fire to the offices of President Bashar Assad's ruling Baath party, an activist said.
Dozens of people staged an anti-government protest before attacking the building in Latakia, said Ammar Qurabi, an exile in Egypt who heads Syria's National Organization for Human Rights.
Presidential advisor Bouthaina Shaaban said that an "armed group" had occupied the roofs of some buildings. She claimed the group was shooting randomly at citizens.
"There is a project to sow strife in Syria," Shaaban told reporters in Damascus.
Qurabi said four people were killed when armed forces fired on protesters Friday in Latakia, which is almost evenly divided between the country's majority Sunni Muslims and Alawites, members of a branch of Shiite Islam who hold most positions of power, including the presidency.
More than a week of protests centered in the southern Syrian city of Daraa exploded into nationwide unrest Friday when tens of thousands of protesters marched in cities, town and villages around the country, posing the greatest threat in decades to Assad's iron-fisted rule. Troops and soldiers opened fire in at least six places, killing some 15 protesters, according to witnesses, activists and footage posted on social networking sites.
Assad pulled back police and soldiers from Daraa and released hundreds of political prisoners on Saturday in an attempt to appease demonstrators furious about the violent government crackdown on dissent.
A resident told The Associated Press by telephone that security forces had withdrawn to the outskirts of Daraa, where protests demanding the release of youths arrested for spraying anti-government graffiti have spiraled into daily confrontations with security forces, who have repeatedly opened fire.
The Daraa resident said more than 1,000 people were holding a silent sit-in the al-Omari mosque, the epicenter of the protests. Protesters used the mosque as a refuge and ad hoc medical center until they were driven out in a government assault on Wednesday. They retook the mosque during clashes with government forces on Friday, witnesses said.
The clashes erupted after protesters attack a statue of late President Hafez Assad in Daraa's main square, witnesses said. The Daraa resident said the statue had been knocked down, a giant picture of President Bashar Assad, the late leader's son, had been torn apart.
A video posted on the main Facebook page used by Syrian pro-democracy activists showed a crowd of young men in Deraa climbing onto the base and trying to shake its from its perch, then rushing toward a nearby building, some throwing what appear to be stones. Suddenly, automatic weapons fire breaks out and the video ends.
A resident told The Associated Press that he saw two bodies and many wounded people brought to Daraa's main hospital after the shooting.
After nightfall, thousands of enraged protesters snatched weapons from a far smaller number of troops and chased them out of Daraa's Roman-era old city, taking back control of the al-Omari mosque, witnesses said.
Activists called online for a popular peaceful uprising Saturday in all Syrian provinces. It urged people to take part in funerals "and not return home."
Most cities appeared calm, however, and a human rights activist said authorities had released 260 political prisoners. Abdul-Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian Human Rights League, said most of those released on Saturday were Islamists and 14 Kurdish detainees were also let free. Most had been imprisoned at Saidnaya, a prison in a Damascus suburb that houses political detainees. He said no further details were immediately available and there was no official confirmation.
Rihawi called the move a "positive step" and urged authorities to release all political detainees.
An activist in Damascus said a funeral had been held in the village of Sanamein for seven people shot when demonstrators tried to march a short distance to Daraa to support the protesters there.
The activist said people in Sanamein said mourners shouted slogans in support of the Daraa uprising but there was no violence.
Syrian state media portrayed Friday's violence as a serious of clashes between state security forces and armed gangs.
It said two people were killed in confrontations in the Syrian coastal city of Lattakia Friday, and some 100 others hurt, including 80 police. It did not elaborate.
The state-run news agency said an armed group attacked an officers' club in the central city of Homs on Friday, killing one person and wounding others.
Videos posted on social networking sites Friday night showed protesters in Homs tearing down a large poster of Hafez Assad over the entrance to the Officers Club. The authenticity of the footage could not be independently verified.
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Mroue reported from Beirut, Lebanon.