U.S. President Barack Obama has condemned Syria for what he called an "outrageous use of violence" against opposition protesters, after 75 people were killed Friday in a government crackdown on the demonstrations.
Obama said in a statement that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ignored the Syrian people's calls for freedom and has instead chosen "the path of repression."
He also accused Assad of seeking Iranian assistance in the brutal crackdown against Syrian civilians.
Listen to what VOA's Cecily Hilleary and Steve Bangley discovered after talking to Syrian eyewitnesses on the ground involved in the protests in several cities:
Rights groups and activists say at least 75 people were killed in Syria Friday after security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters who rallied across the country.
The toll would make Friday the deadliest single day of protests in the country since the anti-government uprising began in March.
Witnesses and activists say security forces used live ammunition and tear gas on protesters, who poured onto the streets after prayers and called for President Assad's immediate departure.
The deaths were reported in areas including the southern Daraa region, the central city of Homs and communities near the capital, Damascus.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined Obama in calling for an immediate stop to the crackdown in Syria.
Friday's rallies against President Assad's government came one day after the president signed a decree ending almost 50 years of emergency rule. The decree was part of his effort to end anti-government unrest.
There was no immediate confirmation of the deaths by Syrian authorities. State-run SANA news says police and security forces responded with tear gas and hoses on Friday after "scuffles" erupted between demonstrators and citizens.
A Facebook page calling for people to join the rallies called them the "Good Friday" protests - a reference to the holy day when Christians say Jesus was crucified and died. A website image shows Christian and Muslim images together with the words "one heart, one hand, one goal."
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.