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16 killed, executions reported in Syria

Syrian security forces fired on thousands of protesters Friday across the country, killing a teenage boy and at least 15 other civilians as accounts emerged of more indiscriminate killing and summary executions by the autocratic regime of President Bashar Assad, activists said.

"What is our guilt? We just demanded freedom and democracy nothing else," said Mohamed, 27, who spoke to The Associated Press from a refugee camp in neighboring Turkey where nearly 10,000 Syrians have fled.

Mohamed, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of reprisals, and other refugees offered harrowing accounts of the regime's bombardment.

"I saw people who were beheaded with machine-gun fire from helicopters" and a man tortured to death when security forces poured acid on his body, he said.

He said a sugar factory in Jisr al-Shughour was turned into a jail where they "hold quick trials and execute anyone who they believe participated in protests."

Jisr al-Shughour was spinning out of government control before the military recaptured it last Sunday.

Meanwhile, a French official said the European Union was preparing new, expanded sanctions that would target "economic entities" in Syria.

France, Britain, Germany and Portugal are also sponsoring a draft resolution at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syria. They say they have the votes needed to pass it but want more support.

Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, told the Security Council in a letter circulated Friday that the proposed resolution is based on erroneous information and would intrude in Syria's internal affairs.

The resolution, he added, would help the "extremists and terrorists" whom he blamed for the country's violence.

In Yemen, officials said President Ali Abdullah Saleh plans to return home within days after treatment in Saudi Arabia for serious injuries he suffered June 3 in an attack on his palace. Hundreds of thousands of his opponents rallied in the streets Friday to say he would not be welcome back.

In his absence, Yemen's opposition parties have sought to persuade the ruling party to join them in a transitional leadership that would effectively shut out Saleh, who has resisted tremendous pressure at home and abroad to step down.

But loyalists have insisted the president will return and resume his duties, and Saleh's powerful son Ahmed, who commands some of the country's best trained military forces, has remained behind in Yemen to help maintain his father's hold.

In Morocco, King Mohammed VI announced a series of constitutional reforms that he said will turn the North African country into a constitutional monarchy.

The new constitution will be put to a referendum on July 1.

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