Tens of thousands of protesters shouting "We want freedom!" made a bold march on the Syrian capital Friday, but security forces beat them back with tear gas and batons as the country's monthlong uprising swelled to the largest and most widespread gatherings to date, witnesses and activists said.
The violence outside of Damascus was the only major unrest reported during protests in several Syrian cities Friday, with security forces generally watching from the sidelines instead of cracking down. The change suggests President Bashar Assad may be trying to minimize deaths that have served to further outrage and mobilize the protesters.
In the CNN report below, there is footage of what appears to be Syrian troops brutalizing the protesters. The protesters are jumped on, beaten, kicked in the face, and called "dogs."
There are also hair-raising images of prisoners--now released--who say they were tortured by Syrian officials when they were detained. There are also allegations of children being detained by Syrian authorities.
More than 200 people have been killed in the government crackdown in the past four weeks, according to Syria's main pro-democracy group. There were no reports of live ammunition fired directly at protesters Friday.
This old man claims to have been tortured by Syrian officials:
The protests have forced Assad to reach out to local leaders and offer concessions - highly unusual steps for an authoritarian leader who keeps a tight grip on power with a small coterie of family and advisers. But the wave of demonstrations are posing the biggest challenge in decades to the Assad family's iron rule.
"The street demands are much more advanced than what the president is offering," said Mazen Darwish, a prominent Syrian writer and activist in Damascus. "The meetings with locals is a good sign, but it shows he is still dealing with the situation on a narrow, regional level as opposed to a national level."
He said Friday's protests appeared to be the biggest and most widespread so far, with well over 100,000 turning out. It was impossible to independently verify the accounts by witnesses and activists in Syria because the government has placed tight restrictions on media coverage, preventing access to trouble spots and expelling journalists.
Human Rights Watch issued a report Friday saying Syrian security and intelligence agencies have detained and tortured hundreds of protesters in a month of demonstrations.
"There can be no real reforms in Syria while security forces abuse people with impunity," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "President Assad needs to rein in his security services and hold them to account for arbitrary arrests and torture."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.