At least 20 people are reported to have been killed and dozens injured in Syria a day after world leaders issued coordinated statements condemning President Bashar al-Assad over his five-month crackdown on dissent.
Activists said soldiers, tanks and armored personnel carriers were still being deployed in restive cities, according to NECN.
Syrian security forces reportedly opened fire on thousands of protesters who poured into the streets after Friday prayers, with demonstrations taking place in Damascus, the central city of Homs, and other areas. Activists also reported a wave of arrests.
On Thursday, the U.S. and the leaders of Britain, France and Germany and the European Union called for Assad to resign, saying that his suppression of his people had made him unfit to lead.
President Barack Obama is also giving his administration authority to impose new sanctions against Syria.
Assad had also assured U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that military and police operations had stopped, the Washington Post reports.
The U.S. State Department on Thursday announced a series of measures against the Assad regime, including the "strongest set of sanctions to date targeting the Syrian Government."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:
"The transition to democracy in Syria has begun, and it’s time for Assad to get out of the way."
She added that while "it is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leaders in a democratic system based on the rule of law," the U.S. will "we will do our part to support their aspirations for a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive."
Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, meanwhile, accused Obama of moving "too late and with too little force" on Syria, which she maintains is "seeking to become a nuclear-armed nation," the AP reports.
"This is yet one more instance of President Obama leading from behind on foreign policy," Bachmann told reporters in South Carolina, where Bachmann is in the middle of a three-day campaign swing after her narrow win Saturday in the Iowa straw poll.
The Minnesota congresswoman has, according to the AP, "been emphasizing her foreign policy credentials as a member of the House Intelligence Committee and has been sharply critical of Obama's handling of Libya and Israel."
She said Obama should have "acted weeks ago to call on President Assad to step down when his regime started slaughtering and oppressing his own Syrian people."
At very least, Bachmann said, he should expel the Syrian ambassador in the U.S. and "immediately withdraw the United States ambassador to Syria."
"Better late than never is no way to conduct United States foreign policy," she reportedly said.
Syria's U.N. envoy, meantime, has accused the U.S. of trying to instigate insurrection, the BBC reports.
Bashar Ja'afari said the U.S. was "waging a humanitarian and diplomatic war" against Syria, together with some other U.N. Security Council members.