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Anti-government protests in Syria's southern Druze stronghold after cleric killed in blasts

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BEIRUT — Activists say tension and anti-government protests have spread in a southern Syrian province following the death of a prominent cleric in explosions that claimed the lives of 25 others.

Activists said Saturday that protesters destroyed the statute of late Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad in the city of Sweida and besieged security offices, holding the government responsible for the death of Sheikh Wahid Balous a day earlier. Syria's official news agency said the death toll from the blasts rose to 26.

Balous, a cleric of the Druze minority sect, was one of the strongest opponents of President Bashar Assad.

His supporters said in a statement they will expel security forces from the province, a predominantly Druze stronghold that has stayed largely on the sideline in the country's civil war.

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