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10 Killed in Syria as Mass Protests Start

Rights activists say government forces killed at least 10 people across Syria on Friday amid reports of mass anti-government demonstrations taking shape.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least three of the deaths occurred in the flashpoint Hama region after forces opened fire on a vehicle.

The French news agency reports thousands of protesters are taking to the streets after Friday prayers with renewed calls for President Bashar al-Assad's departure.

U.N. observers in Syria are continuing to work toward an end to violence between government forces and rebels despite a fractured cease-fire.  

A spokesman for international envoy Kofi Annan, who brokered the cease-fire plan last month, said it was "on track," despite continued violence.

Ahmad Fawzi told reporters in Geneva there are some small signs of compliance with the plan.

"There are no big signs of compliance. There are small signs of compliance. Some heavy weapons have been withdrawn. Some heavy weapons remain. Some violence has receded. Some violence continues," said Fawzi.

On Thursday, at least two dozen people died in anti-government related unrest, including four civilians at Aleppo University.

Witnesses say pro-government students armed with knives attacked protesters at the university before security forces swept in, firing tear gas and live ammunition.

The violence has erupted as Syria prepares for parliamentary elections on Monday, under constitutional reforms that have allowed the creation of new political parties.

VOA correspondent Elizabeth Arrott spoke to Syrians about the polling. She says some have low expectations, despite the reforms.

ARROTT: "There was one student who took the opportunity to say there's no one running who represents the people and they just weren't going to vote. And, certainly, attacks like the one that we heard about in Aleppo strengthen that sense of alienation."

World powers have been tightening economic pressure on Syrian leaders and the government. On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China to consider additional penalties against the Syrian government.

The State Department released her remarks as she wrapped up talks with high-level officials in Beijing. Both China and Russia have voiced reservations about imposing new sanctions on Syria through the U.N. Security Council.

The United Nations estimates at least 9,000 people have been killed in the crackdown, while the government says it has lost at least 2,600 of its forces to "foreign-backed terrorists."

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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