Witnesses say Syrian security forces have killed at least 17 people during protests against President Bashar al-Assad and his ruling Baath Party.
Foreign media reports about Friday’s protests in Daraa quote witnesses as saying that security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas at thousands of demonstrators in the southern city.
Syrian authorities, however, are blaming armed groups for the violence. State television reported Friday that unknown assailants killed a police officer and ambulance driver.
Meanwhile, separate protests erupted in the Kurdish regions of northeastern Syria.
Assad offered Syrian citizenship to some Kurds on Thursday, in what was seen as a move to ease anti-government sentiment. Ethnic minorities in Syria have faced difficulties in getting work in the past due to citizenship issues.
Members of Syria’s Kurdish minority also have long complained about government discrimination against them.
The decree granting citizenship to Kurds was issued Thursday after President Assad’s government made an overture to conservative Muslims by shutting down the country’s only casino and overturning a ban on teachers wearing the Islamic veil.
Assad recently announced that reform plans include changing government leadership positions. He also has said authorities are studying whether to lift emergency regulations enacted decades ago that ban unsanctioned public gatherings and limit other forms of public expression.
So far, however, the president’s gestures have failed to appease opposition activists calling for a sweeping overhaul of Syrian institutions.
Anti-government activists have called on crowds to commemorate more than 70 people reported killed in recent protests against Syria’s rulers. The government has blamed the deaths and the unrest on “armed groups.”