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Syrians Defy Crackdown at Defiant Protest March

A Syrian municipality worker sprays water at a burnt car that was set on fire by Syrian anti-government protesters, in the southern city of Deraa, Syria, March 21, 2011

Syrian demonstrators in the restive southern city of Deraa held a defiant march Monday after a deadly government crackdown failed to stop three previous days of mass protests.

Riot police chased the small group away without casualties, but traces of earlier, larger demonstrations remained - including burned-out and looted government buildings, torched vehicles and the damaged office of the ruling Baath party.

A rights activist said an 11-year-old boy died Monday after suffering tear gas inhalation a day earlier. Thousands of people had rallied in Deraa Sunday, demanding political freedoms, an end to corruption, the release of political prisoners and trials for security personnel who fired at protesters.

The unrest began Friday after security forces opened fire on civilians taking part in a peaceful protest in Deraa to demand the release of 15 children detained for writing protest graffiti. Over the next two days, authorities sealed the city, allowing people out but not in as thousands of enraged protesters demonstrated and rioted.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Monday reports indicate the Syrian government "has used disproportionate force against civilians, and in particular against demonstrators and mourners in Deraa." He said the U.S. calls on the Syrian government to allow peaceful protests.

U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to stop live fire and what it calls "excessive force" against protesters.

The group said Monday that Damascus has shown "no qualms" about shooting its own citizens for speaking out. It said Syrians have shown "incredible courage" in daring to protest publicly against what the rights group described as "one of the most repressive governments in the region."

Syrian authorities denied responsibility for the violence, blaming it instead on "trouble makers."

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

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