At a news conference in Greenland, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, the strongest stance that the US has yet taken on Syria’s violent repression of pro-democracy protesters:
“The recent events in Syria make clear that the country cannot return to the way it was before,” she said at the opening of remarks with Denmark’s foreign minister before a meeting here among Arctic nations. “Tanks and bullets and clubs will not solve Syria’s political and economic challenges.”
…Clinton said that the United States would pursue “additional steps to hold Syria responsible for its gross human rights abuses,” which she cataloged in her remarks: hundreds of deaths, unlawful detentions, torture and the denial of medical care to the wounded.
“There may be some who think this is a sign of strength,” she said, “but treating one’s own people in this way is in fact a sign of remarkable weakness.”
While the US has imposed mostly sanctions on Syria — freezing the assets of three senior security officials — it had not yet demanded that Assad step down, even with at least 800 killed in demonstrations and thousands detained. According to the New York Times, the US is now — finally, you might say — considering sanctions against Assad himself, though the actual impact of such sanctions could be minimal as Syrian leaders are thought to “to keep their money in European or Middle Eastern banks, putting it beyond the reach of the United States Treasury.”
The BBC reports that, with Friday set to be a day of protests throughout Syria, Buthaina Shabaan, an adviser to Assad, has promised that government forces will not fire on protesters. Throughout the seven weeks of protests in one of the most repressive regimes in the Middle East, protests have often been staged Fridays after prayers.
But some reports say that security forces are being deployed in cities where protests are expected: Residents in Homs told the Associated Press news agency that soldiers were setting up machine guns on top of sand barriers and that three tanks remained in the area. Soldiers and tanks are also reportedly surrounding the city of Hama.
Furthermore, the government continues to arrest activists — including a lawyer in Banias, Jalal Kindo and a human rights campaigner in Homs, Najati Tayara — throughout Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), dozens were arrested in Banias — which has been laid siege to with tanks and troops — and the neighboring villages of al-Bayda and al-Qariri.
The European Union has agreed to issue personal sanctions against Assad and other Syrian officials, says the Guardian. A western diplomat stationed in Damascus commented that, while it seems that Assad’s regime may be holding onto power for now, this could change:
“With the army loyal and the current numbers, the government won’t be brought down. But as the economy worsens and Assad’s international legitimacy falls, the balance could change.”
Australia has also announced that it is “ramping up” sanctions against Syria for its brutal repression of protesters, says the New York Times.
Syrian officials dispute the death tolls of protesters reported by human rights activists and say that some 100 soldiers have been killed.
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