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Syrian forces kill 28 as US, EU say no way back for Assad

July 15, 2011 7:09 P.M. (Updated: July 18, 2011 1:08 A.M.)
DAMASCUS (AFP) -- More than one million protesters flooded Syrian streets on Friday seeking an end to President Bashar Al-Assad's regime as security forces killed at least 28 civilians as the country faces mounting international pressure.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Syria cannot now return to the way it was before anti-regime protests erupted on March 15.

"What we are seeing from the Assad regime, the barrage of words, false promises and accusations is not being translated into a path forward for the Syrian people, and it is ultimately the responsibility of the Syrian people to choose and chart their own course," she said.

Friday's protest was the largest anti-regime rally in four months.

A diplomatic source said the European Union is ready to pursue its policy of sanctions against Syria.

The EU has warned for some time that if Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad maintains his present course, "the EU will pursue and carry forward its current policy, including through sanctions targeting those responsible for or associated with the violent repression," said a text read by a European diplomat.

The text, negotiated by the bloc's 27 ambassadors in Brussels, is expected to be formally adopted by European foreign ministers on Monday.

"Nine people were killed in Damascus -- six in Qabun and three in Rukn Eddin [neighborhood]. Three others were killed in Idlib and two in Daraa," said Abdel Karim Rihawi of the Syrian League for the Defense of Human Rights.

Other activists said that at a protest in Duma, 15 kilometers from the Syrian capital, three people were killed and at least 40 wounded by security forces firing on a rally that attracted 35,000 people.

More than one million Syrians turned out in just two cities -- Hama and Deir Ezzor -- to protest against Assad's regime and demand the release of hundreds of detainees seized in earlier pro-democracy rallies.

"More than a million people demonstrated today in Hama and Deir Ezzor," Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human rights said.

"It's a major development and a message to the authorities that protests are getting bigger."

In the central city of Homs, 15 people were wounded when security forces fired on them, pro-democracy militants said, reporting on some of the mass demonstrations staged after Friday prayers.

Rihawi added that 15 protesters were wounded in Kiswe, in Damascus province.

Security agents used live ammunition to disperse protesters in the Qabun and Barzeh areas of the Damascus, while more demonstrators infiltrated the Madaya, Harasta and Saqba regions, Rihawi said.

The official SANA news agency said "armed men fired on security forces and citizens in the areas of Qabun and Rukn Eddin in Damascus."

Syrians had been urged to demonstrate on Friday to demand the release of those people imprisoned in a bloody crackdown on democracy protests, four months after they erupted.

Syrian state television reported "the death of a civilian killed by armed men at Idlib."

It added: "The military and security services are protecting demonstrators against armed men in Daraa province."

Activists issued an appeal for protests to mark a day of "freedom for the hostages" on The Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page, a driving force behind the demonstrations.

The Facebook appeal called for nationwide demonstrations "for the freedom of prisoners, for the dignity of free men."

Like their cousins across the Arab world, Syrians have adopted Fridays, when they are allowed to gather for the main weekly Muslim prayers, as their main outlet for dissent.

In tandem with Friday's protests, organizers called for a simultaneous "Conference of National Salvation" to be held on Saturday in Damascus and Istanbul to look at ways to oust Assad.

A statement said the conference will be held simultaneously in both cities "to draw up a road map that will bring the country out of despotism towards democracy and define the mechanism to overthrow the regime [as] sought by the [people of the] Syrian street."

Neighboring Turkey has seen thousands of Syrians flee there, seeking sanctuary from violence in their homeland. Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has spoken of the need for Assad to announce "without further delay a calendar of reforms."

In an interview published on Thursday, US Ambassador Robert Ford warned Assad and his regime that "the street will wash them away" unless they adopt reforms at "the speed demanded by the street protesters."

Ford has become an irritation for Syrian authorities since July 7 when he visited Hama, which has developed into an opposition stronghold.

A crowd of pro-regime supporters attacked the US embassy in Damascus during demonstrations against the United States on Monday, triggering an angry response from Washington.

Since the protests began on March 15, violence has killed 1,419 civilians and 352 members of the security forces, while more than 1,300 people have been arrested, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

State television, meanwhile, said gunmen in the western flash-point city of Hama, where about half a million people have protested on the past two Fridays, had kidnapped two members of the security forces and a student.

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