Condemnation mounts of Syria crackdown

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International condemnation of Syria mounted Saturday after its security forces reportedly killed more than 80 people in one of the bloodiest days of a month-long uprising.

Russia, Germany, Greece and Italy joined the chorus of criticism which includes US President Barack Obama and UN chief Ban Ki-moon, while France increased its pressure.

Russia, the first of Syria's allies to speak out, urged Damascus to accelerate its political reforms, saying Moscow was "concerned by the heightening of tensions and signs of a confrontation that is leading to the suffering of innocent people."

A foreign ministry statement said Russia viewed Syria as its "friend" but added, "We are firmly convinced that only constructive dialogue and accelerated broad-scale political, social and economic reforms outlined by the Syrian leadership can achieve stable and democratic development."

Moscow also called on all sides "to suspend violence and continue searching for fair solutions to existing problems."

"The new violence against peaceful demonstrators in Syria is unacceptable," Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.

The German government condemns it in the strongest terms," he added in a statement, calling for an inquiry to be opened into Friday's events.

The crackdown Friday targeted thousands of protesters who demonstrated in cities across Syria, chanting "freedom, freedom," and calling for the fall of Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Assad issued decrees Thursday scrapping decades of emergency rule, abolishing the state security court and allowing citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations.

But witnesses said snipers and security forces killed at least five mourners at funerals of the victims on Saturday.

"The right to demonstrate peacefully must be respected. We urge all sides to show calm and moderation and we issue a sincere call to the Syrian authorities to implement promised reforms rapidly," an Italian foreign ministry statement said.

Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas voiced similar views, saying that "the right of assembly and free expression are basic elements of democracy."

In a statement expressing "great concern" he called for "restraint and the immediate implementation by the government of Syria of the required reforms to benefit the Syrian people and stabilise the country."

France issued its second condemnation of the Syrian regime's actions in less than 24 hours, with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe saying that "the officials responsible for these crimes and those who carried them out must answer to their actions."

"This blind and brutal repression goes against the lifting of the state of emergency" announced by Assad, he added.

In Washington, the United States condemned "in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators. This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now," Obama said Friday.

He dismissed Assad's moves as "not serious" and accused him of seeking Tehran's aid "in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies."

A United Nations spokesman said the secretary general "condemns the ongoing violence against peaceful demonstrators in Syria ... calls for it to stop immediately."

Ban said Assad's government must "respect international human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as the freedom of the press."

He also repeated his demand for an "independent, transparent and effective investigation into the killings."

European Parliament speaker Jerzy Buzek said Damascus had to see the writing on the wall.

"The Syrian regime must at last acknowledge the signs of the times and meet the legitimate aspirations of its own people. Mere declarations will not delude the people any more," he said.

"Any form of violence against peaceful demonstrators must stop: no more killing, no more torture, no more arbitrary arrests. An independent investigation into the deaths of protesters has to be carried out."

© 2011 AFP

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