(Note at 3:45 p.m. ET: We've updated this post several times, as you'll see below, and today's death toll has been rising. Read through to see how the story has developed.)
"Syrian security forces fired tear gas on Friday to disperse a pro-democracy protest in the historic Midan district of Damascus," a witness tells Reuters.
And in the southern city of Daraa, several thousand people are demonstrating, Reuters says.
For about five weeks now, some Syrians have been taking to the streets to demand reforms and express opposition to the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Al-Jazeera reports that "thousands of people have reportedly taken to the streets in Damascus for rallies on what activists have dubbed 'Great Friday,' hoping to see the largest protests to date against Bashar al Assad, the president. Rallies were reported in cities including Daraa, Qamishli, and Hasakah. ... Al Jazeera's Cal Perry, reporting from the capital, Damascus, said protests were expected in over 40 cities across the country."
The Guardian is live-blogging here. Correspondent Katherine Marsh writes that, "Thousands have started to protest in the following places: Douma, close to Damascus, and the suburbs of Zabadani and Midan — people in the latter have not taken to the streets before. There are also breaking reports of protests in Deir Ezzor, Latakia and towns in Idleb province. Kurdish sources also confirm that protests have broken out in the north-eastern towns of Ras al-Ayn, Amouda, Qamischli and al-Hassakeh, some shouting for freedom and others calling for the toppling of the regime. The fear barrier seems to have come down in Syria in a spectacular fashion. Concessions seem to be failing to quell unrest."
On Morning Edition, NPR's Deborah Amos reported about Rami Nakhle — a young Syrian activist who has been using a Facebook page to help organize protests. He's been forced to flee to Lebanon because of the threat of arrest in his homeland.
We'll update this post with developments as we hear more about what's happening.
Update at 3:45 p.m. ET. Protests Will Only Grow, Democracy Activist Predicts:
Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian living in exile in the United States who writes about the democracy movement there and has become an informal spokesman for those who oppose the Assad regime, told All Things Considered host Robert Siegel today that the Syrian president and those in his regime must step down because today's crackdown and killings show that they are not serious about any of the concessions they have offered in recent days.
And Abdulhamid predicted that the protests will only continue to grow as more Syrians turn against the regime because of its violent response to the protesters' demands.
Much more from Robert's conversation with Abdulhamid is scheduled for today's All Things Considered broadcast. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.
Update at 3:30 p.m. ET. As Many As 70 Civilians May Have Died:
According to Reuters, the Syrian human rights group Sawasiah estimates there were 70 civilians killed today.
Update at 1:35 p.m. ET. Death Toll Rises Again:
Reuters says that "at least 49 people were killed in demonstrations across Syria on Friday, a prominent activist [Ammar Qurabi] said, the highest death toll in a single day since protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad erupted last month."
Update at 1:25 p.m. ET. Video:
The Associated Press has posted some "raw video," which appears to include scenes of protesters thumping a toppled statue of Assad's father, former President Hafez al-Assad, with their shoes — a huge insult in their culture.
Update at 12:20 p.m. ET. "At Least 27" Dead:
"Syrian security forces fired live bullets and tear gas Friday on pro-democracy demonstrations across the country, killing at least 27 people — including a young boy — in one of the bloodiest days of the uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime, witnesses said." (The Associated Press)
Update at 10:30 a.m. ET. Death Toll Increased:
According to the AP, witnesses now say that at least 15 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and Syrian security forces.
Update at 9:45 a.m. ET. Deaths Reported:
"Witnesses say at least 5 protesters have been killed near the Syrian capital," The Associated Press writes.
Update at 8:35 a.m. ET. Some Protesters Wounded.
The latest Associated Press story begins with: "Syrian security forces fired live bullets and tear gas Friday at tens of thousands of people shouting for freedom and democracy, wounding about 10 people on a day that could be a major test of whether President Bashar Assad's promises of sweeping reform will quell the monthlong uprising. Protesters flooded into the streets after prayers Friday in at least five major areas across the country."
Update at 8:05 a.m. ET. Reports Of Shots:
Reuters now writes that "Syrian security forces fired at pro-democracy protesters in the city of Hama on Friday to prevent them from reaching a ruling Baath Party headquarters, a witness said."
[Note: NPR follows Associated Press style on the spelling of Assad's name. Other organizations use different spellings.]