Deadly clashes reported as Syrians rally

Activists say seven people killed as government supporters and opponents clash in three cities.

    Syrian security forces have shot dead seven people after government supporters and opponents clashed in three cities, activists say.

    The reported deaths on Tuesday came as tens of thousands of Syrians demonstrated in support of President Bashar al-Assad in major cities, a day after he pledged further reforms in an address to the nation.

    The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an activist network, said a 13-year-old boy was killed when security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters in a main square in the central city of Hama.


    Activists said three people were killed in Homs and three others in the Mayadeen district in Deir al-Zour when army and security forces intervened on the side of Assad's supporters.

    "Security forces opened fire when pro- and anti-government demonstrators came to blows," Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said, citing witnesses.

    "It is difficult to say who started first, but the army's armoured personnel carriers drove through the [anti-Assad] demonstration firing at people," a resident of Mayadeen said.

    Two residents in Homs said security forces fired at protesters who had staged a demonstration to counter a pro-Assad rally backed by secret police and Assad loyalists known as "shabiha".

    Pro-Assad rallies

    Tens of thousands of Assad supporters rallied in central Damascus on Tuesday, converging on the Umayyad Square, which is normally a busy roundabout.

    They waved Syrian flags and the president's portrait, chanting, "We will sacrifice ourselves for you, Bashar!".

    Syrian state television also aired footage from pro-Assad demonstrations in Homs, Aleppo, Latakia, Hassake and Deraa.

    Thousands of people gathered for a pro-Assad
    rally in Damascus [Reuters]

    However, Edward Djerejian, a former US ambassador to Syria, said he doubted all those rallying were genuine supporters of the president.

    "I think many of these are people in the middle class, public servants and others," he told Al Jazeera.

    "But the regime is orchestrating these popular demonstrations in order to make the point that there is support for the regime, in contrast to the widespread protests in the rest of the country."

    The demonstrations followed a new general amnesty ordered by the president for all crimes committed in the country up until June 20.

    The president ordered a reprieve on May 31 for all political prisoners in the country, including members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Hundreds of detainees were released, but rights groups say thousands still languish in jail and that hundreds more have since been arrested in an escalating crackdown.

    On Monday, Assad addressed the nation in a televised speech in which he acknowledged demands for reform were legitimate, but said "saboteurs" were exploiting the situation.

    Although he called for "national dialogue," he said, "there is no political solution with those who carry arms and kill".

    Protesters took to the streets across Syria to denounce the speech, saying his address did not meet popular demands for sweeping political reform.

    Russian reaction

    The Syrian authorities' crackdown, which rights groups say has killed more than 1,300 civilians, has been met with international condemnation.

    "We need to apply pressure on the leadership of any country where massive unrest, and especially bloodshed, is happening."

    Vladimir Putin,
    Russian prime minister

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called for international pressure on Syria's leadership, but said Iraq-style international intervention would only make matters worse.

    Russia has been resistant to a new draft UN resolution condemning Syria's government.

    However, Putin said that "we need to apply pressure on the leadership of any country where massive unrest, and especially bloodshed, is happening."

    He called for a political solution in Syria, and said Russian officials are working on this at the United Nations, without elaborating.

    He dismissed talk of a Russian alliance with Syria, saying their close ties dated to the Soviet era and that no "special relationship" existed with the Assad regime.

    Meanwhile, France warned that the UN Security Council could not "stay silent" much longer on Syria's crackdown on protests and said the time was near when "everyone will have to face up to their responsibilities."

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Assad to make credible reforms "without delay."

    "He urges the president to carry on these reforms without delay and in a way that is both genuine and credible," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

    The reforms, he said, "should be part of a broad and inclusive process of change and democratisation."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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