Syria braced for another Friday of protests

AFP and AP, Friday 9 Sep 2011

Syrian demonstrators call for Friday protests, ask for UN permanent observer mission as international condemnation of the Syrian regime’s crackdown increases

Syrian opposition demonstrators living in Turkey wave their national flags during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian consulate in Istanbul, (Reuters).

Syria braced for another Friday of demonstrations a day after security forces stormed a northwestern village and killed three military defectors.

Turkish Prime Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, delivered a blistering attack on the Syrian regime, saying President Bashar al-Assad had lost his legitimacy and could lose power over his bloody crackdown on dissent.

Democracy activists called on the United Nations to send international observers to Syria, but Damascus's key ally Russia again distanced itself from Western condemnation of Assad's regime.

"The Syrian people calls on the United Nations to adopt a resolution to set up a permanent observer mission in Syria," activists said on their Facebook page "Syrian Revolution 2011."

"We demand access to the international media, we demand the protection of civilians," they said, calling for fresh demonstrations on Friday, the Muslim day of rest and prayers, under the banner of "international protection."

On the ground, "a force comprising seven armoured vehicles and 10 jeeps stormed the village of Ibleen in Jabal Al-Zawiyah (region) in search of people wanted by the security services" on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"Heavy gunfire was heard as the forces stormed the village," the Britain-based group said in a statement received by AFP in Cyprus.

The three killings took place during a raid on the Ibleen house of a brother of one of the defectors, Hussein Harmouche, while two other deserters were arrested, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

In a June video distributed on the Internet and broadcast by Arab satellite stations, Harmouche said he defected because he refused "to fire on unarmed civilians."

The United Nations says 2,200 people have been killed, most of them civilians, since democracy protests flared in Syria in mid-March.

The assault on Ibleen came a day after regime forces killed 31 people, 29 of them in a tank-backed raid on the flashpoint central city of Homs, activists said.

Human Rights Watch said security forces had forcibly removed 18 wounded people from Homs's Al-Barr hospital during the raid, citing the testimony of witnesses including doctors.

"Snatching wounded people from the operating room is inhumane and illegal, not to mention life-threatening," the New York-based watchdog's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said.

Syria's crackdown has infuriated world powers, some of which imposed sanctions on the Damascus regime, with fresh pressure piled on Assad from neighbouring Turkey.

"He who bases his power on bloodshed will end up leaving in a trail of blood," the Turkish premier told Al Jazeera television on Thursday.

"Shadows loom over the legitimacy of President Bashar al-Assad and his regime," Erdogan said.

Turkey has been angered at Syria's indifference to its repeated pleas to end months of bloodshed and has been edging closer to calling on former ally Assad to quit, following appeals by Western powers.

Even Russia, a historic partner of Syria which provides it with most of its weapons, and key regional ally Iran have urged Syria and the opposition to launch a dialogue and refrain from violence.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev admitted on Thursday that Syrian authorities had been guilty of using "disproportionate force" against protesters, saying "it's something we disapprove of."

But he stressed that some of those protesting against Assad's regime were "terrorists," and called Syria a "friend" of Russia which, he reiterated, is opposed to backing "unilateral condemnation" of the government's actions.

Russia has staunchly opposed attempts by Western governments to push through a UN Security Council resolution targeting Assad.

On Monday, Iran repeated its calls for Syrian government-opposition talks, with the deputy foreign minister in charge of consular affairs Hassan Ghashghavi saying both sides can make progress through dialogue.

Yet, Russian news agencies have cited a Syrian opposition delegation saying that the prospects of dialogue with the Syrian regime are bleak.

RIA-Novosti and ITAR-Tass quoted Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, as saying Friday that the opposition is prepared to talk with the government but that authorities have responded only with bloodletting.

The Syrian regime, which has promised to launch a wide range of reforms to appease protesters, blames the unrest on foreign-backed "armed terrorist gangs."

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