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Syrian protesters to Assad: You're next

BEIRUT - Inspired by the scenes of euphoria in Libya, Syrian protesters poured into the streets Friday and shouted that President Bashar Assad's regime will be the next to unravel now that ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi is dead.

Syrian forces fired on protesters Friday, killing up to 14 people, activists said.

"Qaddafi is gone, your turn is coming, Bashar," protesters shouted on Friday in the central city of Hama, long a hotbed of resistance to the regime.

Reuters reports that in Homs banners were held with a warning to Assad, who was an ophthalmologist before he took the presidential seat of power from his father: "Doctor, you are next."

The Syrian uprising has proved remarkably resilient over the past seven months, but it has shown some signs of stalling in recent weeks as the government continues a bloody crackdown that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 3,000 people.

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In the Syrian town of Qusair near the Lebanese border, Syrian forces closed all mosques to prevent people from gathering. The weekly protests usually begin as Syrians pour out of mosques following Friday afternoon prayers.

Anti-Assad activists reported via Twitter that land and mobile communications lines have been cut off in the town of Qaboun.

Although the mass demonstrations in Syria have shaken one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, the opposition has made no major gains in recent months, it holds no territory and has no clear leadership.

Now the armed uprising in Libya that drove Qaddafi from power — albeit with NATO air support — appears to have breathed new life into the Syrian revolt.

"Qaddafi is gone, your turn is coming, Bashar," protesters shouted on Friday in the central city of Hama, long a hotbed of resistance to the regime.

Qaddafi's death Thursday, after he was dragged from hiding in a drainage pipe, begging for his life, decisively ends the nearly 42-year regime that had turned the oil-rich country into an international pariah and his own personal fiefdom.

"Our souls, our blood we sacrifice for you, Libya!" Syrian protesters chanted Friday.

When asked on CBS' "The Early Show" whether the fall of Qaddafi might speed the departure of the embattled leadership in Syria and Yemen, Bobby Ghosh, deputy international editor for Time Magazine, said, "I think Syria it will take longer. Yemen, it does look like things are coming to a boil. They have of course been doing so for quite a while.

"Across the Arab world, dictators - as well as rebels - will both be looking at what happened in Libya and thinking, 'We've got to strengthen our resolve,'" Ghosh said.

When asked if the situation for Syrians rising up against President Assad might be worse after the fall of Qaddafi, Ghosh replied, "It could very well be. I think Bashar al-Assad is looking at those pictures and saying, I don't want to be dead and bloody on a gurney somewhere. I'm going to crack down even harder on the people who are rising up against me."

When asked if there is another country that would take Assad should he decide to leave, Ghosh said, "Well, the Saudis will probably take him; the Saudis take almost anybody. But that's not where he wants to go.

"It's not just one man. He has a large number of people around him who depend on him and their survival is important to him as well."

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In many ways, the Syrian uprising has taken cues from the Libyans recently.

Syria's opposition formed a national council like the Libyans' National Transitional Council, hoping they could form a united front against Assad that Syrians and the international community could rally behind.

And with the successes of armed Libyan revolutionaries present in their minds, many Syrian protesters say they are starting to see the limits of a peaceful movement, particularly when compared to the armed uprising in Libya.

Some Syrians are now calling on protesters to take up arms and inviting foreign military action, hoisting signs that say "Where is NATO?" and urging the world to come to Syria's aid.

For the most part, Syrian opposition leaders have opposed foreign intervention.

There is no central call to arms by the opposition, in part because there is no clear leadership in the movement.

The Syrian opposition is disparate and fragmented, with various parties vying for power as they seek an end to more than 40 years of iron rule by Assad and his late father, Hafez.

There have been some clashes in border regions between Syrian forces and apparent defectors from the military, but they have not been widespread.

Still, the growing signs of armed resistance may accelerate the cycle of violence gripping the country by giving the government a pretext to use even greater firepower against its opponents. Authorities have already used tanks, snipers and gangster-like gunmen known as "shabiha" who operate as hired guns for the regime.

The regime has sealed off the country and prevented independent media coverage, making it difficult to verify events on the ground.

Syria-based activist Mustafa Osso said six people were killed in the central city of Homs on Friday, and there were reports of casualties in other areas as well. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another activist group, put the death toll at eight nationwide.

"Qaddafi's death will boost the morale of Syrians," Osso told the AP in a telephone interview. "It will make them continue until they bring down the regime."

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