Protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad swept into the capital, Damascus, on Friday for the first time since a growing wave of pro-democracy unrest began to put pressure on his 11-year rule.
Thousands of protesters marched elsewhere across the country despite a fierce crackdown and some political concessions announced by Assad in an attempt to quell spreading unrest. Shouting "God, Syria, Freedom", protesters repeated the same demand for democratic reform and freedoms across many cities.
In Damascus, security forces used batons and tear gas to prevent thousands of protesters marching from several suburbs from reaching the main Abbasside Square.
"I counted 15 mukhabarat (secret police) busloads," one eyewitness said. "They went into the alleyways just north of the square chasing protesters and yelling 'you pimps, you infiltrators, you want freedom? we will give it to you'."
A witness who accompanied marchers from the suburb of Harasta said thousands chanted "the people want the overthrow of the regime" and tore down posters of Assad along the route.
Assad's use of force, mass arrests and accusations that armed groups have instigated the unrest, mixed with promises for reform and concessions to minority groups and conservative Muslims, have not placated protesters inspired by popular uprisings which toppled the leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
On Thursday, he unveiled a new government, which has little power in the one-party state, and ordered the release of some detainees, a move one human rights lawyer said was a "drop in the ocean" compared to the thousands of political prisoners still held.
Nevertheless, protesters gathered in even larger numbers on the Muslim day of prayer.