|A rally in Hama was described by activists as the biggest 'since the Syrian Revolution broke out' [AFP/YouTube]
Eleven people have reportedly been killed in Syria, after hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across the country in fresh protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
Witnesses and activists said anti-government protesters were calling on Assad to "leave", braving a security crackdown ordered by the authorities to quell unprecedented protests sweeping the nation since March.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of activists, said five demonstrators were shot dead by security forces on Friday in the central city of Homs, three in the northern province of Idlib, two in Damascus suburbs and one in Latakia.
A huge rally was held in the city of Hama, where people filled the square around the central Clock Tower. Activists said at least 200,000 people were taking part in what they said was the biggest demonstration since the uprising began in March.
"Here we are, the germs of Syria," a local activist said, referring to the president's speech in which he characterised the protesters as "germs" that Syria must inoculate itself against. "But we are big germs in huge numbers."
He said there was no visible security presence in the city, only checkpoints at the entrances. "There’s not even traffic police," he told Al Jazeera.
The opposition has deep roots in Hama, a city of 700,000. In 1982, under the rule of late President Hafez al-Assad, the army stormed the city to crush a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving about 20,000 people dead.
'Time running out'
Elsewhere in Syria, activists told Al Jazeera that 30,000 demonstrators had gathered in Deir al-Zour in the east of the country after Friday prayers.
"They are chanting for an end to the siege on Syrian cities and for the toppling of the regime," they said.
A similar demonstration was reported from Ain al-Arab, a Kurdish-majority town on the edge of Aleppo governorate in northern Syria, with marchers holding aloft banners saying "the people want to topple the regime" and "the Syrian people are one".
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent group based in London, said three people were killed overnight after tanks led an assault on villages near the Turkish border.
The latest protests came as Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said "time was running out for the Syrian government".
"They are either going to allow a serious political process that will include peaceful protests to take place throughout Syria and engage in a productive dialogue with members of the opposition and civil society, or they're going to continue to see increasingly organised resistance," she said while addressing an international democracy conference in Lithuania on Thursday.
"They must begin a genuine transition to democracy and allowing one meeting of the opposition in Damascus is not sufficient action toward achieving that goal," Clinton said, referring to a rare opposition gathering that the authorities allowed in the capital a few days ago.
Assad’s one-party rule is seriously threatened by the protests, apparently inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled long-entrenched leaders.
About 1,400 people have reportedly been killed in the crackdown that followed the protests, provoking global condemnation of the Syrian regime.