New violence broke out in Syria during a visit by a Chinese envoy Saturday when security forces started firing at thousands of people marching in a funeral procession.

As one of the largest protests since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began nearly a year ago unfolded in Damascus, China said it favoured a solution to Syria's violence within the Arab League framework.

However, China is unlikely to support the region's calls for Assad to step aside. The country, along with Russia, recently vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would see Assad transfer powers to his deputy.

During his visit to Syria, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun called on all parties to stop violence that has killed more than 5,400 people since March of last year.

"China supports all the mediation efforts by the Arab League to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis and calls upon relevant parties to increase communication and negotiations to find a peaceful and appropriate solution," a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry's website quoted him as saying.

Zhai's trip appeared to be part of China's stepped-up diplomacy efforts in the wake of scathing criticism from the international community. Other member countries of the UN Security Council have condemned China and Russia for showing their support for Assad.

Meanwhile, several people were wounded and at least one person was killed in Damascus Saturday when Syrian security forces opened fire at a funeral procession for three people killed in another protest on Friday. A number of people also needed help after inhaling tear gas.

Activists said about 15,000 people took part in the procession, making it one of the largest anti-government gatherings in Syria so far.

After security forces dispersed the protesters, numerous raids and arrests followed, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Observatory also said four other people were killed in Syria on Saturday, including one in the central city of Homs who died from sniper fire and another in the north, who was shot by security forces conducting raids.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Assad, Zhai said he was hopeful Syrian authorities would soon restore stability to the country.

He backed a referendum on Syria's new draft constitution that would create a multiparty system after 40 years of rule by the Assad family.

Zhai urged Syrians to participate in the referendum, set for Feb. 26 and defended China's veto of the Security Council resolution as an "objective and just" move in the interest of the Syrian people.

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly last week in favour of a nonbinding resolution backing an Arab League plan calling for Assad to step down.

With files from The Associated Press