Marking a significant escalation in the protests that have gripped Syria for the past month, tens of thousands of demonstrators reportedly marched in the outskirts of the capital for the first time Friday, demanding an end to the 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
Protesters were reportedly met in Damascus by security forces firing tear gas and beating demonstrators with batons, BBC reports.
The protests Friday were the first time the capital's suburbs have seen such a large gathering of demonstrators since the unrest began March 15.
Reuters reports that the security forces managed to prevent the protesters from reaching the main Abbasside Square.
"I counted 15 mukhabarat [secret police] busloads," an eyewitness told Reuters. "They went into the alleyways just north of the square chasing protesters and yelling, 'You pimps, you infiltrators, you want freedom? We will give it to you.' "
Thousands also gathered in other Syrian cities including Deraa, Latakia, Baniyas and Qamishli, BBC states.
The protests erupted Friday despite a crackdown by security forces that has left about 200 dead.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Syrian authorities to not suppress the demonstrators.
“We call upon the Syrian authorities, once again, to refrain from any further violence against their own people,” she said while in Berlin, reported the New York Times. “The arbitrary arrests, the detentions, the reports of torture of prisoners, must end now. The free flow of information must be permitted once again.
"It’s time for the Syrian government to stop repressing their citizens and start responding to their aspirations.”
The protests came a day after Assad attempted to placate demonstrators by granting amnesty to some detained activists and forming a new government.
Friday has become a significant day of protest in the various uprisings that have swept the Middle East and north Africa over the past four months.