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Syria forces sweep Aleppo a day before announcing a general amnesty

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad orders general amnesty after his forces extend security sweep to Aleppo, Syria's second city, arresting university students and residents of nearby town

AFP and Reuters, Tuesday 21 Jun 2011
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syria's President, Bashar Assad waves to audience after he delivers a speech in Damascus, Syria, Monday, (AP).

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday ordered a new general amnesty for all crimes committed up until June 20, state news agency SANA announced.

Syrian forces have extended a security sweep near the Turkish border to the merchant city of Aleppo, activists said, as President Bashar al-Assad pledged reforms that protesters said failed to meet popular demands.
Tens of students at Aleppo University were arrested on Monday and 12 people, including a mosque preacher, were detained in the nearby village of Tel Rifaat, halfway between Aleppo and the Turkish border, following protests, rights campaigners said.
Protesters at the university campus had criticised a speech by Assad, only his third since the uprising against his rule began three months ago, inspired by popular protests across the Arab world that ousted autocratic rulers in Tunisia and Egypt.

In the speech given at Damascus University, Assad reiterated a commitment to "national dialogue" and promised new laws on the media and parliamentary elections but activists were dismissive and the United States demanded "action, not words" from Assad.
Syrian rights groups say at least 1,300 civilians have been killed and 10,000 detained in a fierce military crackdown.
"Road blocks in Aleppo are noticeably more today, especially on roads leading north toward Turkey and toward the east. I saw military intelligence agents arrest two brothers in their 30s, apparently just because they were from Idlib," a resident of Aleppo, who owns an import business, told Reuters by phone.
He was referring to the northwestern province where troops and tanks have been deployed in towns and villages for the past 10 days to quell protests against Assad, according to witnesses.

The military assault has sent thousands of refugees streaming over the nearby border into Turkey.
Central neighbourhoods in the mixed city of Aleppo, Syria's second biggest, have been largely quiet, with a heavy security presence and the political and business alliance intact between Aleppan Sunni business families and the ruling hierarchy, from Syria's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Ankara has become increasingly critical of the Syrian president, having previously backed him in his drive to seek peace with Israel and improve relations with the United States.
A senior Turkish official said on Sunday that Assad had less than a week to start implementing long-promised political reforms before "foreign intervention" begins, although he did not specify what this might mean.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, speaking ahead of the EU meeting, said Assad had a last chance to "concretely start reforms", but added that many people were losing hope.

Under mounting international pressure and facing wider street protests despite the military crackdown, Assad said that Syria was facing security threats and accused "saboteurs" among the protesters of serving a foreign conspiracy to sow chaos.

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