Aug. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian security forces laid siege to a central city and anti-regime protesters took to the streets throughout the country. The death toll from yesterday’s clashes rose to at least eight as the killings of two more people were reported, an activist said.
Troops surrounded the town of Rastan in central Syria and demonstrations took place in Deir al-Zour, Homs, Idlib, and the suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo, according to Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights.
The violence comes as international pressure mounts on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end more than five months of violence. U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this month joined the leaders of the U.K., France, and Germany in calling for Assad to step down. The Arab League said yesterday it was sending its chief to press for an end to fighting while Turkish President Abdullah Gul said he’s lost confidence in Syria.
Between Aug. 19 and Aug. 25 at least 96 people were killed by government forces, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria who compiles the names of those who have died in the uprising. At least 2,400 people have been killed in Syria since the protests started, according to Merhi and Qurabi. The UN puts the death toll at more than 2,200. More than 500 members of the security forces have died, the government has said.
The protests that began in mid-March are part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa this year that has unseated the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and threatened the regime of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya.
Gul said he was receiving detailed daily intelligence reports on the shootings of protesters in neighboring Syria.
“Today how many will it be?” he asked. “We’ve lost our confidence.”
“In today’s world there is no place for authoritarian rule, one-party governments and closed regimes,” Gul said in an interview with Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency. “These will either be changed by force or by the initiative of those who rule.”
Turkey’s $740 billion economy is the largest among Syria’s neighbors. Relations with Syria have deepened since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002. The two countries have dropped visa requirements and in 2009 started joint military training exercises.
Turkish exports to Syria increased to more than to $1.8 billion in 2010 from $267 million in 2002.
Assad has blamed the dissent on a foreign conspiracy, while saying protesters’ demands “have merit” and that changes are needed.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, has introduced a draft resolution in the UN Security Council that “calls on the Syrian government to expedite the implementation of the announced reforms in order to effectively address the legitimate aspirations and concerns” of Syria’s people.
The Russian move followed the introduction last week of a U.S. and European draft resolution that would freeze the foreign assets of Assad, his brother Maher, who commands a Syrian army division, and 21 other senior government officials. That resolution would also impose an arms embargo on Syria.
--With assistance from Bill Varner and Flavia Krause-Jackson at the United Nations and Benjamin Harvey in Istanbul. Editors: Louis Meixler, Digby Lidstone.
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