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UN: Syria in civil war, death toll at 4,000
By REUTERS
01/12/2011
With new toll, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay characterizes Syrian violence as civil war.
 
GENEVA - Syria is now in a state of civil war with more than 4,000 dead and increasing numbers of defecting soldiers taking up arms against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the top United Nations human rights official said on Thursday.

"We are placing the figure at 4,000, but really the reliable information coming to us is that it is much more than that," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a news conference.

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"I have said that as soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms, I said this in August before the Security Council, there was going to be a civil war. At the moment that's how I am characterizing this," she said.

Violence continued throughout the week in Syria, as troops shot dead six civilian protesters and army defectors killed seven soldiers on Wednesday and regional pressure grew on Assad to withdraw forces from restive cities, free prisoners and start talks with the opposition.

Syria's biggest trade partner Turkey suspended all financial credit dealings with Damascus and froze its assets, joining the Arab League in isolating Assad over his military crackdown. The United States urged other countries to follow suit.

The world's largest Muslim body, the Organization of Islamic Conference, urged Syria on Wednesday to "immediately stop the use of excessive force" against its citizens so as to avert any prospect of foreign intervention.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the rule of Assad, which began in 2000 and followed 31 years of power by his father Hafez Assad, had reached "the end of the road."

Turkey had $2.5 billion in bilateral trade with Syria last year and was long one of Assad's closest allies, but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has lost patience with him. Turkey now hosts Syrian army defectors and opposition groups.

Under the terms of an Arab League deal aimed at ending the violence, Syria agreed earlier this month to withdraw the army from urban centers, free political prisoners, launch a dialogue with the opposition and admit League observers.

Syria has freed 912 prisoners held for taking part in anti-Assad protests, the state news agency SANA said on Wednesday, because they did "not have Syrian blood on their hands."

The move appeared to be a gesture towards Arab League calls for an end to the crisis, but the number of freed detainees would only be a small fraction of the total reported by rights activists to have been arrested.

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan said he was still hoping Syria would admit monitors and avoid further sanctions.

European and Arab diplomats say the top United Nations human rights forum will paint a grim picture of events in Syria at a special session on Friday and is expected to accuse Assad's government of authorizing crimes against humanity.


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