Middle East News
Amid unrest, Syria calls for "national dialogue"
May 13, 2011, 17:25 GMT
Damascus/Cairo - A top Syrian official said Friday that the government will embark on a 'national dialogue,' even as deadly anti- government protests resumed for an eighth consecutive Friday with thousands rallying against President Bashar al-Assad in towns and cities across the country.
A Syrian activist reached by the German Press Agency in Damascus said 'three people were killed on Friday during protests in the central city of Homs.'
The activist, who refused to give his name for fear of retribution, said 'despite media reports saying that President al- Assad has ordered troops not to open fire on protesters, three of the dead protesters were hit directly in the head by army gunfire.'
Throughout Friday, government officials chose to focus on their outreach plans. Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud told reporters that the government is currently working on implementing 'a comprehensive political, economical and social reform programme.'
In March, al-Assad said he would introduce a series of new reforms and lifted the long-standing emergency law which has been in place for almost 50 years.
Al-Assad also promised to release thousands of jailed political prisoners and allow a UN investigative team to assess the situation in several cities where the army has been deployed for several weeks.
Promises to hold a national dialogue come after prominent Syrian opposition activist Michel Kilo said Friday he met with with al- Assad's advisor, Bouthaina Shaaban, and presented demands that included an end to violent repression of protesters.
'My meeting was not a dialogue, it was to listen to points of view on current development,' he told the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai.
Kilo was among four activists who met with Shaaban. She told them that the Syrian president had ordered troops not to fire on pro- democracy demonstrators on Friday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Syria's political groups are attempting to find a peaceful solution, with the assumption that there will not be an outside intervention.
'We must not create a situation similar to Libya,' he said.
This week, the European Union named 13 Syrian officials against whom it has issued sanctions, including al-Assad's brother Maher, who commands the Syrian Army's 4th Division, linked to some of the bloodiest attacks against protesters.
Referring to the EU-imposed sanctions, the Syrian information minister said some countries came to their decisions based on media and online stories, without verifying the reports.
'These sanctions will not affect our determination to confront the extremist armed gangs who are trying to hit the stability of Syria,' said Mahmoud.
Nonetheless, hundreds protested in Homs, chanting slogans against al- Assad, his government and the Baath party, which has ruled the country since 1963.
At least nine people were killed in Homs on Wednesday when the military opened fire on residential buildings, according to the international rights group Avaaz.
'Leave, Leave With Your Party' protesters chanted as they marched holding banners that read: 'Syria, The Country of Freedom.'
Syrian military forces have been deployed in at least four districts across the country in recent weeks in response to growing protests calling for the ouster of the incumbent regime.
The government said it began withdrawing its military from Homs and the southern district of Daraa of Friday.
A continued heavy security presence did not prevent residents of Daraa from gathering near a mosque to take to the streets and walk in a demonstration after midday prayers, according to a witness who spoke to dpa.
Security forces fired in the air and dispersed the protesters, but no one was injured.
Activists have posted online the names of over 750 people who have died, including soldiers and police, since the government crackdown on protests began on March 15.
The information minister said 98 security officers and soldiers had been killed since in recent weeks.
Security forces also opened fire on protesters in the coastal city of Lattakia, and used tear gas and batons to disperse rallies in the north-western cit of Aleppo.
In the capital Damascus, according to the US-based opposition Reform Party of Syria, around 10 protesters were detained after exiting a mosque.
The group said there were unconfirmed reports that one protester in the Kaboon district of Damascus was killed by ammunition fired at demonstrators.
Thousands of Kurds in north-eastern Syria also rallied for an end to military operations, demonstrating near the border with Turkey after Friday prayers, a Syrian activist told
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