Security forces in the city of Homs in Syria have opened fire to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters, according to media reports and witness accounts.

BBC reported that one protester was killed, citing a witness.

Listen to the shooting, he told BBC by phone. Can you hear it? It's hammering on us like rain. Security forces... listen to the shooting, where is it coming from? It can't be coming from thugs, it's so heavy.

Another protester told Associated Press (also by phone): I saw people on the ground, some shot in their feet, some in the stomach.

The soldiers have locked the city down and swarmed into its central square shortly after the regime of Bashar al-Assad warned it will not tolerate an armed insurrection” in the country.

The interior ministry also warned that terrorist activities will not be tolerated.”

According to Syrian state TV, the ministry requested that people refrain from taking part in marches or demonstrations or sit-ins under any pretext.

Homs was the locale of a huge demonstration Monday as well.

Protesters are clearly unhappy with the slow pace of reforms promised by Assad, the most important of which are the planned lifting of emergency rules that have been in place since 1963 and the release of some prisoners.

Analysts have speculated that the government will not crack down harder on protests on the pre-text that it is fighting acts of terrorism. The state-controlled TV has repeatedly claimed that violence in demonstrations has been committed by “armed criminal gangs.”

The government has specifically pointed to the Salafist movement, a fundamentalist Islamic sect some have likened to Al-Qaeda, as one of the premier terrorist organizations fomenting unrest in Syria,

Some of these groups have called for armed insurrection under the motto of Jihad to set up a Salafist state, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Their objective is to spread terror across Syria.

Meanwhile, Baroness Catherine Ashton, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security, said the EU is very worried about the situation in Syria.

There has to be an end to violence. The first thing is we've got to stop the violence. The government has got to take its responsibilities seriously, she told Al Jazeera.

Lifting the emergency law, something that's been promised, has to happen. And the reforms - the president has been out there saying: 'These are the reforms we're going to do.' We call on him to actually start to implement them - in all circumstances; dialogue, moving forward, responding to the legitimate wishes of the people.

However, Ashton stopped short of calling for a regime change in Syria.

The important thing is for people to determine their own future,” she said.

“In some countries, what we've seen [are] governments responding to that call, putting in place reforms, moving forward - and the people have gone with that, they've seen that as very positive. Government's responsibility is to respond to its people, to be mindful of what they want and to be clear about their needs. When people feel that doesn't happen, you then hear that frustration coming through. And one of the reasons I'm a passionate advocate of democracy is that democracy not only allows you to elect people, it allows you to say goodbye.

A correspondent for BBC, Jonathan Marcus, explained why Syria is such an important country in Middle East affairs.

He wrote: “Syria matters in ways that make Libya appear peripheral in the region. It is a key element in an alliance that brings together Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and other more radical Palestinian groups opposed to peace with Israel. If Syria descends into chaos, that alliance could also be weakened. But the most serious impact might be felt in next-door Lebanon: another country made up of a patchwork of different communities which has not enjoyed Syria's long-term stability. “

Marcus added: “One way or another, a strong Syria represents a stabilizing element in Lebanon. Chaos in one could lead to chaos in the other. Israel, too, is watching events in its northern neighbor with concern. Syria has long been a predictable enemy. Even a shaken Syrian regime could pose a different kind of problem.”