Mass protests staged across Syria, 23 killed

DAMASCUS- Syrian security forces opened fire Friday killing at least 23 people as thousands of anti-regime protesters rallied in flashpoint cities after the Ramadan weekly prayers, rights activists said.
As the West grapples with ways to pressure Damascus into ending the bloodshed, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged countries to stop trading with Syria.

Mass protests staged across Syria,  23 killed
"We urge those countries still buying Syrian oil and gas, those countries still sending Assad weapons... to get on the right side of history," Clinton told reporters.
In an interview with CBS News, she suggested that China and India impose energy sanctions on Syria, and urged Russia to stop selling arms to Damascus, which has bought weapons from Moscow for decades.
She also urged the Europeans to impose energy sanctions.
"President Assad has lost the legitimacy to lead and it is clear that Syria would be better off without him," Clinton told a press conference with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere.
But Clinton stopped short of explicitly urging Assad to step down -- a call which US officials have said President Barack Obama's administration has decided to make, although it has not finalised the timing.
Clinton also said US ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, delivered a "clear message" to the Syrian government, alluding to his meeting Thursday with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
"Immediately stop the violence, withdraw your security forces, respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people for a democratic transition in concrete and meaningful ways," she said, reading out the message.
In Syria, Friday's hail of lead against protesters came in defiance of warnings by the United States that Syria will face further sanctions if it does not stop killing protesters.
A man was shot dead in a dawn assault on the Damascus suburb of Saqba while a woman died when troops opened fire in the town of Kahn Sheikhun in northwestern Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In Bensh, also in Idlib, a woman who was shot by security forces on Tuesday succumbed to her wounds.
A man was killed by a sniper on Friday in the central city of Homs and a bus full of passengers fleeing to Lebanon came under fire from "pro-regime militants," an activist at the scene said, adding some were wounded.
As thousands poured out of mosques after the noon prayers in the central city of Hama, security forces sprayed them with gunfire, killing two civilians and wounding three others, the Britain-based Observatory said.
"Thousands of people marched in Hama despite a higher presence of security forces. We left from the mosque to the Al-Manakh Square and they shot at us. People were wounded and several others were arrested," an activist told AFP.
At least 100 people died in Hama when troops backed by tanks stormed the city on July 31, the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Syrian state television streamed images images showing Assi Square -- nerve centre of protests in Hama -- as completely empty, saying: "Life is back to normal in Assi Square, there are no armed forces."
A man was killed in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, an activist at the scene said.
Security forces also shot to disperse demonstrators in two neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Damascus -- Harasta and Douma -- where they killed five people, another activist said.
Meanwhile, state television said "two security agents were shot dead by armed men in Douma."
Four more were killed and one wounded in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city, where security forces again fired to disperse protesters, the Observatory said.
Security forces encircled the Damascus neighbourhood of Qabun in a bid to prevent demonstrations there, the Observatory said.
Protests were also staged in the coastal city of Lattakia while in the Mediterranean city of Banias troops circled mosques in a bid to prevent protests taking place, the Observatory said.
The protests are in response to a call by Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force behind the anti-regime protests.
"We only kneel before God," the group said, urging Syrians to continued rallying throughout Ramadan, which started August 1, saying "every day in Ramadan is a Friday."
The group posted a video of the protest in Midan, Damascus, where demonstrators carried signs that read: "Bashar's reforms: 3,000 dead, including women and children, 20,000 arrested, thousands displaced or missing."
Security forces on Friday arrested poet and writer Abdel Rahman Ammar, 68, in place of his son, an activist wanted by Syrian authorities.
The Observatory said a total of 2,150 people have been confirmed dead since the protests began, including 1,744 civilians and 406 members of the security forces.
Ambassador Ford, who returned to Damascus last week after consultations in Washington, urged Syria's top diplomat to ensure journalists can cover the protests.
As part of the crackdown, Abdel Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights since 2004 and a key source of information for international media, was arrested on Thursday, activists said.
France condemned Rihawi's arrest and said Rihawi "should be released immediately." Rome echoed Paris with an "appeal to Syrian authorities for his immediate release."
Ignoring the growing international outrage, Assad pledged this week a relentless battle against "terrorist groups" Damascus says is fomenting a popular uprising across Syria.

Saturday, August 13th 2011

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