Damascus: Security forces shot dead a mourner at a huge funeral for demonstrators killed in rare protests in the Syrian capital, as a senior Chinese envoy issued a plea for the bloodshed to end.
The Damascus funerals were for four people, two of them teenagers, killed when security forces fired on protesters in the capital's Mazzeh district, which is overlooked by the presidential palace and houses many government offices and embassies, a human rights group and activists said on Saturday.
"The funerals in Mazzeh turned into protests -- it was the closest major gathering to Omayyad Square" in the city centre, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul Rahman.
Mohammed Shami, a spokesman for activists in Damascus province, echoed him.
"It's the first time there have been demonstrations of such a scale so close to the centre of Damascus," Shami said, adding that some 15,000 people had turned out despite snowfall.
He said the shootings, in which many people were wounded, were followed by a "wave of searches and arrests" across the leafy, upscale residential district.
Activists described Friday's demonstrations in Damascus as "unprecedented", saying there were 49 in all, and called for a "day of defiance" in the capital on Sunday to galvanise support.
The Syrian Observatory said the security forces killed a total of at least 11 civilians across the country on Saturday.
In a message to Damascus residents on their "Syrian Revolution 2011" Facebook page, activists said, "The blood of the martyrs exhorts you to disobedience."
Security forces also kept up their pounding of the flashpoint central city of Homs as the Chinese envoy visited.
After morning talks with President Bashar al-Assad, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun called on all sides to stop the violence and for planned elections, which have been denounced by the opposition, to go ahead peacefully, state media said.
Zhai, whose government has twice joined Russia in blocking UN Security Council condemnation of the Damascus regime's crackdown, said it was vital that "calm be restored as quickly as possible," state television reported.
"The position of China is to call on the government, the opposition and the rebels to halt acts of violence immediately," Zhai said, on the second day of talks with Syrian officials.
"China supports the reforms under way in Syria and the significant measures taken by the country in this field," he said.