03/26/2011 07:49 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Syria Protests: Facts About The Embattled Nation

Demonstrations across Syria were met with violence as security forces opened fire into anti-government crowds Friday.

As the AP is reporting, witnesses say tensions erupted after tens of thousands of Syrians took to the streets across the country, shouting calls for greater freedoms in support of a more than week-long uprising in Daraa. The situation further escalated when thousands of pro-government supporters rallied in Damascus. The opposing groups reportedly clashed with fists, sticks and belts.

The protests are the most serious internal challenge yet to President Bashar al-Assad, elected unopposed after the 2000 death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years. As the Guardian is reporting, much of the violence came after the government had pledged on Thursday to look into reforms. As is the case in Libya and Bahrain, the Syrian protests are partly inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The facts below are courtesy of Reuters. Photos show both pro-government supporters and anti-government protesters.