2 die at Syria protest; Sarkozy wants more sanctions

French president calls to increase pressure on Syria as Assad sends army to attack pro-democracy rally near Iraq border.

By REUTERS
July 14, 2011 14:47
2 minute read.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy mad 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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PARIS/AMMAN - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday he wanted further sanctions against the Syrian government after it continued to crack down on protesters.




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Syrian forces killed two people on Thursday when they fired at a pro-democracy protest in the provincial capital of Deir al-Zor, residents said.




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"The attitude of the Syrian president is unacceptable ... we must strengthen sanctions against the regime which is applying the most brutal methods against its population," Sarkozy said in a television interview.


The incident was part of an escalating crackdown against dissent in the tribal region bordering Iraq's Sunni heartland.

Military Intelligence agents also injured seven protesters who had gathered in the main square of the city on the Euphrates river in the remote northeast.

A statue of President Bashar Assad's brother Basel had stood in the square but security forces removed it two months ago to stop demonstrators from smashing it.

"A crowd of 1,500 had shown up for the usual noon demonstration despite the intense heat. Thousands more have descended on the square after the killings, and there are now around 10,000 people there," said one witness, a computer programmer who declined to give his name for fear of arrest.

Despite being the center of Syria's modest oil production, Deir al-Zor is among the poorest regions in the country of 20 million people.

Little oil revenue is invested in the desert area and water shortages over the last six years, which experts say have largely been caused by mismanagement of resources and corruption, have decimated agricultural production.

This has weakened support for the Assad family, which has ruled Syria with an iron fist since 1970, among Sunni tribes in Deir al-Zor, whom the authorities had allowed to carry arms as a counterweight to a Kurdish population further north.

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Two overnight explosions hit minor gas pipelines in Deir al-Zor on Wednesday, residents said. The official state news agency said a pipeline had caught fire due to dry weather or a leak.

"It is very difficult to hit those pipelines with more troops deploying in Deir al-Zor lately. People suspect the regime is behind the attacks to discredit the democracy cause after months of peaceful demonstrations," Sheikh Nawaf al-Khatib, a prominent local tribal leader, told Reuters by phone.

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