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Middle East

US slams 'brutality' as regime deploys helicopter gunships

Video by Stephen CLARKE


Latest update : 2011-06-11

The US condemned the “outrageous use of violence” by the regime against protesters Saturday, and stepped up pressure on the president to step down after troops backed by helicopters killed dozens of protestors on Friday.

AFP - Syrian forces backed by helicopters killed dozens of pro-democracy protesters Friday, as the United States stepped up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The latest deaths came as security forces launched a long-feared crackdown in the northwest flashpoint town of Jisr al-Shughur near the border with Turkey.

France 24's Jasper Mortimer reports on Syrian refugees in Turkey

Protesters poured on to the streets of towns and cities across the country after the weekly Muslim main prayers, many chanting slogans against Assad and in support of Jisr al-Shughur residents.

Security forces shot dead at least 25 anti-regime protesters, including 11 in the northwest, while in Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province, they fired on a large crowd and killed at least 11 people, activists said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that helicopters flying over Maaret al-Numan had fired on a police station which protesters had seized from the security forces.

State television reported that "armed terrorists" had opened fire there, killing and wounding members of the police and security forces.

Nine people were also killed in the port of Latakia, Abdel Rahman added; and another two died in the Bosra al-Harir area of southern Daraa province, the focus of pro-democracy protests that have shaken Syria since mid-March.

State television said "armed men" had fired at security forces in Bosra al-Harir, killing a security force member and a civilian.

Activists said three civilians were also killed in the Qabun district of Damascus.

State television said the operation in Jisr al-Shughur had come "at the request of residents" to deal with "armed gangs". Soldiers had arrested "elements of the armed groups" there, it said.

But one villager told AFP that advancing troops had bombarded the surrounding villages and torched wheat fields in the village of Al-Ziyara, 15 kilometres (nine miles) southeast of Jisr al-Shughur.

Rights activists say the town is largely deserted after most of its 50,000 inhabitants fled, many to neighbouring Turkey, as tanks and troops began converging there midweek.

On Wednesday state television ran images of "massacres" in Jisr al-Shughur, blaming "armed terrorist gangs" it said had killed 120 police and soldiers on Monday.

But opposition activists said the deaths resulted from a mutiny by troops who had refused orders to crack down on protesters.

The international community stepped up its pressure against Assad's regime.

"The United States strongly condemns the Syrian government’s outrageous use of violence across Syria today and particularly in the northwestern region," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"There must be an immediate end to the brutality and violence."

Earlier, a US State Department spokesman said that they and their allies were trying to increase pressure on Assad to step down.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a personal friend of Assad, denounced Syria in Ankara's harshest reaction yet to the unrest which has forced more than 3,000 people to seek refuge across the border.

"Unfortunately they do not behave humanely," Erdogan said in a television interview carried by Anatolia news agency.

The crackdown was "unacceptable" and would "necessarily" lead the UN Security Council to step in, he added.

But UN officials reported that Assad had refused to take telephone calls from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, an outspoken critic of the crackdown.

Ban tried to call Assad on Thursday but was told the Syrian leader was "not available," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.

Later Friday Ban reaffirmed in a statement that "the use of military force against civilians is unacceptable" and expressed deep concern at the heavy civilian toll.

The UN leader, who has had three stormy telephone calls with Assad since protests started, has already described the crackdown as "violent repression".

Security Council diplomats held fresh talks Friday on a proposed European resolution condemning Syria's deadly crackdown but got no closer to a full vote. Talks were set to be extended through the weekend.

Protests were reported in several other locations across the country.

Activist Hassan Berro said more than 8,000 demonstrators marched through the Kurdish towns of Ras al-Ain, Qamishli and Amuda in the north on Friday.

The Syrian Observatory reported protests and gunshots in Homs, north of Damascus. And citing residents, it said more than 7,000 had converged on Al-Assi Square, in Hama further north. At least 60 civilians were killed there on June 3.

Protests were also reported in Dael in Daraa province, and thousands gathered in Damascus's Midan district and the Harasta and Barzeh suburbs.

More than 1,200 civilians, including dozens of children, have been killed in the crackdown over the past three months, rights groups say.

Damascus blames the unrest on "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.


Date created : 2011-06-11


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