BEIRUT – Tens of thousands of Syrians braved tear gas and gunfire to protest across the country Friday, vowing to storm the capital Damascus to oust President Bashar Assad.

Meanwhile, the European Union ramped up pressure on the regime by imposing sanctions on Assad’s wife and other close relatives.

Security forces deployed in many cities to disperse protests, but opposition groups reported fewer protester deaths than in past weeks. Activists said more than 20 people were killed nationwide in army attacks on opposition areas or clashes with armed rebels.

International condemnation and high-level diplomacy have failed to stop the year-old Syria crisis, which the U.N. says has killed more than 8,000 people, many of them civilian protesters.

Friday’s sanctions bring to 13 the sets imposed by the EU to try to compel the regime to halt its violent crackdown on dissent. The United States and others have also imposed sanctions. Previous measures were aimed at Syrian companies and Assad himself.

Those imposed Friday targeted Asma Assad, Syria’s British-born first lady, banning her from traveling to EU countries and freezing any assets she may have there. They also included the president’s mother, sister, sister-in-law and eight government ministers.

Activists reported dozens of anti-regime protests in towns and cities across Syria under the banner “Damascus, we are coming.” Security forces broke up many of them with gunfire and tear gas, and there were reports of wounded.

Activists reported fewer protester deaths and Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Observatory, said he had yet to confirm a single protester death Friday, remarking that this was unusual.

The Syrian government has barred most media from working in the country, and activist accounts could not be independently verified.