Deadly protests in Syria, call for tougher sanctions

AFP , Friday 17 Jun 2011

Syrian security forces lead a crackdown on protesters in the city of Banias and Homs after Friday prayers

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian eastern town of Deir al-Zour (Reuters

-Syrian security forces killed at least eight people when they opened fire on protesters on Friday, rights activists said, as France urged tougher EU sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The protests after the main weekly Muslim prayers came as the army pressed its campaign against northern towns and the number of refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey neared 10,000.

Four people were killed in the northern flashpoint city of Homs, at least one in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, two in Dael in the southern province of Daraa and one in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the activists told AFP in Nicosia by telephone.

They said at least five people wounded in Homs were in critical condition after protesters staged what have now become weekly demonstrations to demand more freedoms and democracy.

"There was intense firing to disperse the demonstrations in Banias and there were casualties," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, told AFP by telephone of the western coastal town.

"A large number of people were wounded or killed" when security forces fired at a crowd of around 5,000 in Homs, he said.

Abdel Rahman also reported demonstrations in Daraa province in the south and Jableh in the west, with protesters chanting anti-regime slogans and showing "solidarity with towns besieged" by the army.

Club-wielding Syrian forces also dispersed hundreds of protesters in the southern city of Suweida, he said.

Demonstrations also hit Latakia, Maaret al-Nooman and the countryside outside Damascus.

Rights activist Abdullah al-Khalil said that 2,500 people demonstrated in the northern town of Raqqa but that security forces did not intervene.

State news agency SANA reported three policemen wounded by gunfire in the Qabun neighbourhood of Damascus.

"A number of policemen were also shot and wounded by gunmen in Homs," it said, adding that "troublemakers" were burning tyres and cutting off roads.

SANA reported rallies in several cities and towns including Hama and Deir Ezzor, with demonstrators chanting "various slogans," without elaborating.

In the nothern town of Amuda more than 3,000 people took to the streets, calling for "freedom and democracy," rights activist Hassan Birro said.

And more than 4,000 demonstrated in the northwestern city of Qamishli.

The military pressed ahead with its crackdown, sending tanks and troops into the northwestern town of Khan Sheikhun and surrounding villages, activists and witnesses said.

The deployment follows military operations in the northern province of Idlib, where forces have targeted Ariha, Maaret al-Nooman, Jisr al-Shughur and its surroundings.

Witnesses told AFP at the Turkish-Syrian border that Shughur al-Kadima was one village attacked on Thursday.

"The army came... with tanks and positioned snipers in the area. They started shooting at anyone," said Abu Nuuar, a driver from Shughur al-Kadima.

The Syrian army also attacked Janudiyeh, a few kilometres (miles) from the Turkish border, a Syrian activist helping the displaced people on the other side of the border told AFP by phone.

Nearly 10,000 Syrians have crossed the border into Turkey fleeing a crackdown by the Damascus regime, an official source said on Friday. About 1,200 arrived overnight, bringing the total number of refugees to 9,700, the source said.

The refugees are being settled in camps run by the Red Crescent in Turkey's southern Hatay province.

Some refugees began a hunger strike on Friday to protest against restrictions imposed by Turkish authorities, hours before a planned visit by screen idol Angelina Jolie, a UN goodwill ambassador, a Syrian rights group source said.

In what was seen as an attempt to defuse anti-government anger, telecoms tycoon Rami Makhluf, Assad's cousin who is on a list of 13 Syrians facing US and EU sanctions, said he will allocate profits from his businesses to charity.

Makhluf owns 40 percent of Syriatel, Syria's largest mobile phone operator, and is widely despised by opponents for allegedly exploiting his relationship with Assad to build his commercial empire.

On the political front, France is seeking tougher EU sanctions against Assad's regime.

"France supports an expansion of the European sanctions against Syria to economic entities," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters, adding that Syrian banks and private firms linked to regime figures could be hit.

He said discussions were under way with fellow EU states before a meeting on Monday of the bloc's foreign affairs committee.

The EU to date has slapped two sets of sanctions against Assad's regime, with EU foreign ministers in late May adding Assad to a blacklist of 23 Syrian officials hit by an assets freeze and travel ban.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Tuesday said the violence has claimed the lives of 1,297 civilians and 340 security force members since it began in mid-March.

Short link: