Anti-government activists in Syria say at least seven people have been killed and dozens arrested in a crackdown by security forces following clashes at pro-democracy rallies in several cities on Friday and Saturday.

Most of the arrests were made in the southern city of Deraa, scene of the worst violence since the protests began two weeks ago. Damascus blamed the violence on armed groups.

Tension is also growing in the Damascus suburb of Duma, where government security forces are reported to have  opened fire on protesters in protests on Friday, killing four. Residents have called for three days of general strikes in protest at the killings. All shops have already been closed and security forces patrolling the streets and checking documents.

Activists and human rights groups estimate that between 60 and 130 people have died in clashes in the past two weeks. Officials have said the death toll is closer to 30.

President Bashar al-Assad said earlier this week that the pro-democracy demonstrations were part of a foreign “plot”, but he agreed to examine the unpopular Emergency Law, which has been in place since 1963.

On Thursday 31 March, Al-Assad gave the go-ahead for the creation of a committee to look into removing the emergency law, which has been in place since his father seized power in 1963.