'Day of anger' in Syria over Russian support for Assad
Pro-democracy activists in Syria held a "day of anger" against Russia on Tuesday as a Western-led drive for UN sanctions over the regime's deadly crackdown ran into new opposition from Moscow and Beijing.
Demonstrators burned Russian flags in the flashpoint protest hubs of Homs in the centre and Daraa in the south in protest at Moscow's support for President Bashar al-Assad, activists said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Syria could plunge into "civil war," as he began in Egypt a tour of Arab countries where uprisings have ousted autocratic leaders.
He expressed frustration with Assad's regime, with which he had built up close ties, for failing to "listen to the voice of the people," who have been demanding democracy in almost daily protests for six months.
"Do not support the killers," activists urged Russia in a message announcing Tuesday's action posted on The Syrian Revolution 2011, a Facebook page that has been a driving force behind the protest movement.
"We express our anger towards Russia and the Russian government. The regime will disappear but the people will live," the activists added.
Moscow has blocked Western-led efforts at the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against the Syrian regime and is promoting a rival draft resolution that simply calls on the government and the opposition to open direct talks.
President Dmitry Medvedev defended the Russian position in talks in Moscow on Monday with British Prime Minister David Cameron even as the Syrian security forces pressed their deadly crackdown on dissent.
On Tuesday, police and troops again deployed in force, carrying out search and arrest operations in a string of towns, activists said.
One person was killed during searches in Deir Ezzor province in the northeast while five more were wounded when troops went house to house in Houla in Homs province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP in Cyprus.
The security forces arrested more than 160 people in Idlib province near the Turkish border, and dozens more in Deraa, in satellite towns around the capital, and in the Mediterranean coastal towns of Latakia and Banias, the Britain-based watchdog said.
On Monday, the security forces shot dead 23 people, 17 of them in and around the flashpoint central city of Hama, activists said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that, as of Monday, a total of 2,600 people had been killed in the Syrian government's crackdown.
But senior Assad aide Bouthaina Shaaban said on a visit to Moscow that 1,400 people had died since the demonstrations erupted in mid-March -- half of them security force personnel and half of them "rebels".
Damascus has consistently maintained that the protests are the work of armed groups, rejecting the reports of Western embassies and human rights groups that the great majority of those killed have been unarmed civilians.
France has been among those to have accused Assad's regime of crimes against humanity in its crackdown. On Monday, the foreign ministry in Paris said the UN Security Council's inability to approve a tough resolution against Syria was "a scandal."
But after talks in Beijing on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe acknowledged that he had made little headway in persuading his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi to abandon its opposition to a sanctions resolution.
Asked if he had the impression that China's position had changed, Juppe said: "Not really."
Cameron expressed similar disappointment after his talks with Medvedev in Moscow on Monday.
"Clearly, Britain would like to go further. We do not see a future for Assad," he said.
Erdogan warned in comments published on Tuesday that he feared Turkey's southern neighbour could plunge into a sectarian civil war between its Sunni Muslim majority and Assad's minority Alawite sect, which he said dominated top positions in the regime and manned its crack militias.
"The people's anger is directed at them (the Alawite elite), not only because they are a tool of the government, but also because of their confession, and the Syrian regime is playing up this dangerous card," he said in an interview published by Egypt's independent Al-Shourouk newspaper.
Erdogan said Turkey has been consulting with Syria's key regional ally Iran to try to end the bloodshed.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu "will soon travel to Tehran to pursue consultations on the situation in Syria and after that I will visit Tehran to meet officials," he said.
© 2011 AFP