World pressure mounts on Syria to end crackdown

AFP , Wednesday 10 Aug 2011

International pressure on Syrian regime is growing while Assad security forces are stepping up their crackdown, killing more peaceful protesters in several cities

Protesters carry placards and poster of Syrian child Hamza Al-Khatib shout anti-Syrian regime(Reuters)

World pressure increased on Wednesday on Syria to end its deadly crackdown on anti-regime protests as President Bashar al-Assad pledged to pursue a relentless battle against "terrorist groups."

A day after Turkey warned that Ankara has "run out of patience" with the crackdown that has claimed more than 2,000 lives since mid-March, Brazil, India and South Africa all stepped into the diplomatic fray.

"The Brazilian representative is already in Damascus, where he awaits his counterparts," and their meeting with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem "should take place on Wednesday," a Brazilian foreign ministry spokesman said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr became the latest Arab official to call for an "immediate end" to the violence in Syria, warning that the country was "heading to the point of no return."

He was due in Turkey on Wednesday for consultations after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited the Syrian capital on Tuesday and said he had urged the Syrian leader to end the bloodshed and implement democratic reforms.

"We hope that some measures will be taken in the coming days to end the bloodshed and open the way to a process for political reform," Davutoglu said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow's call for an end to the violence and the launch of deep-rooted political reforms in Syria, during a phone call with Muallem.

A Russian statement stressed the "priority of ending violence and continuing efforts to conduct comprehensive political, social and economic reforms in Syria without delay."

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland highlighted the toughening US and international stance, saying Assad seemed deaf to calls from around the world to end the bloodshed.

"It is deeply regrettable that President Assad does not seem to be hearing the increasingly loud voice of the international community, a voice of concern that is now growing in strength, in volume and in number of countries making their views known," Nuland told reporters in Washington.

Gulf Cooperation Council nations Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have all recalled their ambassadors to Damascus for consultations.

Overnight, some 2,000 people protested outside the Syrian embassy in Kuwait City to demand its envoy's expulsion and the "freezing" of relations with Damascus.

Assad dug his heels in on Tuesday after meeting Davutoglu, blaming the violence that has raged since mid-March on "terrorist groups."

"We will not waver in our pursuit of terrorist groups," he told Davutoglu, according to state news agency SANA.

Assad has consistently blamed "armed gangs" and "terrorist groups" for the unrest, but has also offered promises of reform.

In his remarks, Assad again promised wide-ranging reforms, SANA said without elaborating.

As Assad stood his ground, activists reported another 34 deaths on Tuesday, including 17 people killed and another 50 wounded, some of them seriously, by security forces in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

An army assault there on Sunday killed 42 people.

"At least 15 people were killed in different parts of Deir Ezzor, which has been raided by tanks and vehicles mounted with machine guns," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, quoting activists at the scene.

It spoke of corpses "littering" the streets and tanks deployed in a central square as gunfire echoed all around.

Five people, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed in Binnish in Idlib province bordering Turkey, six died in the protest hub of Hama, two in Homs, two in the Damascus area and one in Latakia, activists said.

A 35-year-old man "tortured" by authorities also died of his injuries, relatives said.

Security forces on Wednesday killed a woman and wounded three people in a crackdown in the northwestern city of Sermin, in Idlib, Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory told AFP.

"A woman was killed and three other people were wounded in the city of Sermin where Syrian forces launched a broad military campaign on Wednesday morning," he said.

Abdel Rahman said earlier that security forces were using heavy machine guns in Sermin, leaving "10 wounded, four of them in critical condition."

Last week, Russia backed a UN Security Council statement condemning the "use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities" after refusing to back a tougher resolution.

A chorus of Arab and Muslim condemnation of the bloodshed built up throughout the weekend and into Monday when Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based top Sunni authority, said the crackdown "has gone too far."

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