Syrian activists call more protests after dozens dead
Anti-regime activists in Syria have called for "Children's Friday" protests, snubbing government concessions after a week in which they said security forces killed more than 60 people.
The fresh protests are to honour the children killed in the uprising, such as 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib whom activists say was tortured to death, a charge denied by the authorities.
The UN children's agency UNICEF says at least 30 children have been shot dead in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's autocratic rule which erupted in mid-March.
"The people want the fall of the regime. Tomorrow, it's 'Children's Friday' of rising up against injustice, like the adults," the activists announced on their Facebook page Syrian Revolution 2011, an engine of the revolt.
Security forces armed with heavy machine-guns shot dead 15 civilians in Rastan on Thursday, a human rights activist said, adding to a toll of at least 43 killed in towns of the flashpoint Homs region since Sunday.
A witness, Talal al-Tillawi, meanwhile, said gunfire was also heard in Talbisa, another town in the same region.
"Security agents in army uniform are carrying out searches. They're smashing up everything they see, refrigerators, televisions, cars" in Talbisa, which like Rastan the army has encircled since Sunday, he said.
Clashes also occurred in the Daraa area, a hotbed in southern Syria, where according to Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights four people were killed during raids on Wednesday night in the town of Hirak.
More than 1,100 civilians have been killed and at least 10,000 arrested in a brutal crackdown across the country, according to rights organisations.
The protests and clashes come despite concessions by embattled Assad, who on Wednesday launched a "national dialogue" while freeing hundreds of political prisoners in a general amnesty.
The opposition has previously dismissed calls for dialogue, saying that this can take place only once the violence ends, political prisoners are freed and reforms adopted.
Activists said the teenager Hamza al-Khatib had disappeared while taking part in a demonstration in Daraa on April 29, which he decided to join after police killed his cousin.
The boy died under torture and after abuse by security forces, according to the activists.
A medical report published by Syrian official media, however, said three bullets killed the teenager and that other apparent wounds on his body were due to decomposition, not security force brutality.
The government insists the unrest is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.
At a meeting in Turkey, about 300 Syrian activists, mostly exiles, on Thursday were working to draft a "roadmap" for a peaceful and democratic transition, organisers said.
The participants, among them members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, have dismissed the general amnesty as too little, too late.
Washington, which has been increasing the pressure by slapping sanctions on key regime members, said the Syrian regime's release of "100 or so political prisoners does not go far enough."
But Russia cautioned against pushing for "regime change" in Syria.
"If these opposition groups think only about continuing to outright reject everything that is being proposed by the Syrian authorities then it would be an absolutely irresponsible approach," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
"The international community should see this picture in its entirety and not allow to provoke the situation for the sake of regime change," he was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
© 2011 AFP