Syrian security forces shoot dead 16 protesters

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BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian security forces killed at least 16 people Friday, including a teenage boy, as thousands of people poured into the streets across the country calling for the downfall of President Bashar Assad’s autocratic regime, activists said.

The unrest also appeared to be spilling over into neighboring Lebanon. A senior member of a Lebanese political party allied with Syria was killed Friday after gunmen opened fire and lobbed a grenade near hundreds of people holding an anti-Assad protest in northern Lebanon, a security official said in Beirut.

The protests in Syria came hours after Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships seized control early Friday of another northwestern town in the latest military operation to quell the dissent.

Since the protests erupted in mid-March, Assad has unleashed the military to crush street demonstrations. Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained.

“What is our guilt? We just demanded freedom and democracy nothing else,” said Mohamed, who spoke to The Associated Press from a refugee camp in neighboring Turkey and asked to be identified only by his first name. He and other refugees offered fresh accounts of summary executions to suppress the pro-democracy movement.

“I saw people who were beheaded with machine-gun fire from helicopters,” and a man tortured to death when security forces “poured acid on to his body,” he said.

Mohamed fled with his family as the military besieged Jisr al-Shughour, a rebellious town the government recaptured last Sunday.

He said a sugar factory in the city was turned into a jail where they “hold quick trials and execute anyone who they believe participated in protests.”

He is among some 9,600 people are seeking shelter in Turkish refugee camps. On Friday, U.N. envoy Angelina Jolie traveled to Turkey’s border with Syria to meet some of the thousands of Syrian refugees.

The Syrian crackdown has brought international condemnation and sanctions on the regime. On Friday, a French official said the European Union was preparing new, expanded sanctions that would target the economy.

The Syrian government claims armed gangs and foreign conspirators are behind the unrest, not true reform-seekers. In what has become a weekly back-and-forth between activists and the government, both sides offered divergent death tolls.

Syria’s state-run TV said Friday that a policeman was killed and more than 20 were wounded when “armed groups” opened fire at them. It added that six police officers were wounded in Deir el-Zour when gunmen attacked a police station in the area.

But the Local Coordination Committees, a group that documents the protests, and Syria-based rights activist Mustafa Osso told The Associated Press that eight people were killed, all of them civilians, citing witnesses on the ground.

Nine people were killed in the central city of Homs, two in the eastern town of Deir el-Zour and two in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, one in the northern city of Aleppo. The 16-year-old, who was in the streets protesting, and another person died in the southern village of Dael, the Local Coordination Committees said.

It’s impossible to independently confirm many accounts coming out of Syria. Foreign journalists have been expelled from the country and local reporters face tight controls.

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