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U.N. chief: Syria’s Assad must stop violence
BEIRUT (AP) — The U.N. chief on Sunday demanded that Syria’s president stop killing his own people and said the “old order” of one-man rule and family dynasties is over in the Middle East on a day when activists said 27 people died.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, delivering the keynote address at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world, said the revolutions of the Arab Spring show people no longer will accept tyranny.
Thousands of people have been killed in the government’s crackdown on a 10-month-old uprising, which has turned increasingly militarized in recent months with a growing risk of civil war.
Syria agreed last month to an Arab League plan that calls for a halt to the crackdown; the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, such as tanks, from cities; the release of all political prisoners; and the admittance of foreign journalists and human rights workers into the country. About 200 Arab League observers are working in Syria to verify whether the government is abiding by its agreement to end the military crackdown on dissent.
Observers visited the coastal city of Banias and the restive town of Maaret al-Numan in northern Syria on Sunday, where they were met with thousands of anti-Assad protesters chanting for his downfall.
Amateur video posted by activists on the Internet showed the monitors watching and filming from a balcony as a large protest unfolded on the streets below.
“Victory for our revolution!” the protesters shouted.
The monitors also visited the Damascus suburb of Zabadani, which activists say has come under an intense crackdown in the past few days.
“The authorities pulled out tanks and stopped firing just before the observers arrived,” said one activist in Zabadani, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals. “But they saw with their own eyes the destruction and fear,” he said, adding people took to the streets in huge protests while the monitors were there.
The presence of the observers has not put a stop to bloodshed, and the U.S. and many in the Syrian opposition say killings have accelerated. The United Nations says about 400 people have been killed in the past three weeks alone, on top of an earlier estimate of more than 5,000 killed since March.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syria’s state-run news agency SANA reported Sunday that at least five factory workers were killed when a roadside bomb detonated near the bus they were traveling in, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria.
The human rights group said 16 other people died in Syria on Sunday, 11 of them in the restive central city of Homs.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network said 27 people were killed Sunday. The differing numbers could not be immediately reconciled.
Syria bans most foreign correspondents and limits movement.
“The killings still continue, and still there are people arrested,” said Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby in Bahrain. He said there will be a meeting of Arab foreign ministers at the end of the week in Cairo to decide on the next steps.
Syria’s state news agency reported that Assad granted a general amnesty for “crimes” committed during the uprising and officials said authorities have begun granting local and foreign media outlets approvals to work in Syria. It was not clear how many prisoners would be released.
Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said the level of “incitement and distortion of facts” has doubled since some reporters were allowed in along with the Arab League observers, who started work late last month.
“It is sometimes said that authoritarian regimes, whatever else their faults, at least kept a lid on sectarian conflict. This is a cruel canard,” Mr. Ban said in Beirut. “Yet it would be equally mistaken to assume that all of the new regimes now emerging will automatically uphold universal human rights,” he said.
“Democracy is not easy,” he added. “It takes time and effort to build. It does not come into being with one or two elections, yet there is no going back.”
He encouraged Arab countries to usher in real reforms and dialogue and to respect the role of women and youth.
“The old way, the old order, is crumbling,” Mr. Ban said. “One-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms that are the birthright of every man, woman and child on this planet — to all of this, the people say, ‘Enough!’”
The U.N. chief also urged an end to Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories.
“Settlements, new and old, are illegal. They work against the emergence of a viable Palestinian state,” Mr. Ban said.
The foreign minister of Tunisia, which became the first Arab country to oust a dictator through a peaceful revolution one year ago, said there is no escape from the process of democratization and freedoms in the Arab world.
“My message (to the Syrian regime) is to hear and to listen to the will of the people,” Rafik Abdessalem told APTN in an interview in Beirut on Sunday.
On Saturday, the leader of Qatar was quoted as saying that Arab troops should be sent to Syria to stop a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests. Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s comments to CBS’ “60 Minutes,” which will be aired Sunday, are the first statements by an Arab leader calling for the deployment of troops inside Syria.
Excerpts of the interview were sent to the Associated Press by CBS on Saturday.
Qatar, which once had close relations with Damascus, has been a harsh critic of the crackdown by Mr. Assad’s regime. The wealthy and influential Gulf state withdrew its ambassador to Syria in the summer.
Reem Khalifa contributed to this report from Manama, Bahrain.
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