Syrian dissidents launch civil disobedience campaign
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Pro-democracy activists in Syria said they had launched a campaign of civil disobedience Thursday, with plans to stage sit-ins at work and close universities in their latest attempt to put pressure on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
AFP – Syrian activists on Thursday launched a campaign of civil disobedience to pile pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, after he drew a stinging rebuke from the US for denying he ordered a deadly crackdown.
Local human rights groups said more than 100 people have been killed in Syria since the weekend, and the UN estimates at least 4,000 have died since March when anti-regime protests erupted.
But in a rare interview with Western media, President Assad questioned the UN toll and denied ordering the killing of protesters, saying only a "crazy person" would do so.
Washington said Assad's remarks showed he was disconnected from reality or himself "crazy," as he comes under mounting global pressure, with Arab nations and Turkey joining the West in pursuing sanctions against his regime.
Despite the rhetoric, activists said there was no let-up in the crackdown with forces loyal to Assad on Thursday killing at least seven civilians, including a woman, in an assault on the restive central city of Homs.
Forces used sniper fire and "arbitrary" shelling in three neighbourhoods of the city, a main hub for dissent that has been besieged for more than two months, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network reported separately that Assad's forces used bombs and "heavy and indiscriminate gunfire" in Damascus and northwestern Idlib province.
State news agency SANA said, meanwhile, that "an armed terrorist group targeted in a sabotage operation the pipeline of Tal al-Shor, west of Homs."
The LCC, which organises anti-regime protests on the ground in Syria, appealed for citizens to mobilise for a "dignity strike ... which will lead to the sudden death of this tyrant regime."
The campaign would "snowball... and grow each day of the revolution to reach every home and anyone who wants to live delighted and dignified in his/her country," said an LCC statement received in Nicosia.
The UN’s top human rights official says her office estimates the death toll in Syria’s nine-month uprising is now “much more” than 4,000.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave the latest figure a day before the global body is due to hold an emergency meeting on the crisis in the country.
Pillay told reporters in Geneva on Thursday that evidence emerging of abuses committed by Syrian security forces affirms her call that the country’s leadership should be prosecuted for “crimes against humanity.” (AP)
It urged citizens to begin the action on Sunday -- the first day of the working week in Syria -- starting with sit-ins at work, and the closure of shops and universities, before the shutdown of transportation networks and a general public sector strike.
"The Syrian revolution is... a renaissance against slavery; a scream at the face of humiliation started from the first day as demonstrators cried 'Syrians are not to be humiliated.'
"The echo of this scream will not vanish till it reaches all ears," said the English-language statement, adding the strike was "the first step in an overall civil disobedience" campaign which will overthrow the regime.
In his interview, Assad denied he ordered the killing of thousands of protesters and brushed aside charges that Syrian forces tortured to death a 13-year-old boy, whom rights groups say was shot, burned and castrated in April.
"Every 'brute reaction' was by an individual, not by an institution, that's what you have to know," Assad told US television network ABC News.
"There is a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials. There is a big difference."
Assad said he was not responsible for the nine months of bloodshed, declaring: "No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person."
"There was no command to kill or be brutal," Assad told ABC.
Assad said security forces belonged to "the government" and not him personally.
"I don't own them. I'm president. I don't own the country. So they are not my forces," he said.
Assad's family has ruled Syria with an iron fist for four decades. Assad's brother, Lieutenant Colonel Maher al-Assad, heads the army's Fourth Division, which oversees the capital as well as the elite Republican Guard.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner dared Assad to back up his assertions by letting in international observers and media, saying there was a "clear campaign against peaceful protesters."
"It either says that he's completely lost any power that he had within Syria, that he's simply a tool or that he's completely disconnected with reality," Toner told reporters Wednesday.
"It's either disconnection, disregard or, as he said, crazy. I don't know," Toner said.