Fresh protests called in Syria

November 18, 2011 12:14 pm

, DAMASCUS, Nov 18 – Activists called for fresh protests on Friday to urge nations to expel Syrian ambassadors and further isolate Damascus, as neighbour Turkey joined Russia in warning of the risk of civil war.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, whose country was a major player behind NATO’s military intervention in Libya, was in Turkey for talks focused on Syria ahead of a tour of Arab states.

“I say there is a risk of transforming into civil war,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told AFP, pointing to army defectors attacking key regime targets, a day after Moscow raised the same risk.

“It is now the right time to stop this massacre, and therefore the Arab initiative is important,” he said. “If it is not successful of course there is always a risk of civil war or high level tension in Syria.”

Juppe, for his part, said France and Turkey had an “overlapping approach” to the crisis in Syria.

“We believe that the (Syrian) regime was not willing to implement a reform programme and now it is too late,” Juppe said after talks with Volkan Bozkir, head of parliament’s foreign relations committee.

Syrian forces killed at least 16 people on Thursday, including two children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, updating an earlier toll, despite an Arab League ultimatum that Damascus halt the bloodshed or risk sanctions.

Dozens of people were also wounded overnight in the town of Yabroud, north of Damascus, when security forces opened fired at protesters who torched a police station, it added.

Activists called for fresh anti-regime protests on Friday to urge countries around the world to expel Syrian ambassadors.

“They are the ambassadors of crime. Expel them, oh free ones,” the Syrian Revolution 2011, one of the main groups behind the protests, said on its Facebook page.

“Today we want to impress the regime by the strength of our protests… We want the regime to hear us as we call for the fall of the regime, its ambassadors and its politicians,” it added.

Another umbrella group of activists, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, also called for nationwide protests “until the regime falls,” urging them to remain “peaceful and civilised.”

The Arab League on Wednesday gave the Syrian regime three days to halt the eight months of deadly violence against its people that the United Nations says has cost more than 3,500 lives or face economic sanctions.

The Arab bloc has also suspended Syria’s membership over its violent crackdown on dissent.

Meanwhile the United States disagreed with a Russian assessment that attacks by renegade Syrian troops risked plunging Syria into civil war, blaming the regime in Damascus for the violence.

“We think that’s an incorrect assessment,” US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned of civil war in Syria.

“We don’t view it as a civil war,” he said.

After Wednesday’s attack by army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army on a military intelligence base outside Damascus, Lavrov said: “If the opposition is going to use such methods it will lead… to full-scale civil war.”

Russia has been deeply opposed to Western efforts to internationalise the crisis, fearing it might clear the way for a Libya-style Western military intervention under a UN mandate.

On October 4, Russia and China vetoed a Western-drafted Security Council resolution that would have threatened Assad’s regime with “targeted measures” over its crackdown.

Despite the US position, analysts and opposition leaders say the risk of civil war cannot be ruled out.

“The risk for generalised civil war is real though we are not there yet,” said Marwa Daoudy, lecturer at Oxford University’s department of politics and international relations.

“We are at a turning point,” Burhan Ghalioun, who heads the opposition Syrian National Council.

“One path can lead us to freedom and dignity, the other toward a civil war that the regime keeps pushing for in order to undercut the revolution,” said Ghalioun, a professor of political sociology in France.


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