UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ Joshua Lott)
GENEVA - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria on Wednesday to halt its military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and heed calls for reform "before it is too late."
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Ban, who said he has spoken with Syrian President Bashar Assad several times, most recently four or five days ago, said some promises of change made by Assad had fallen short.
He said leaders in the troubled Arab world had a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to meet their people's aspirations for basic freedoms, warning that gains in both Tunisia and Egypt remain fragile amid renewed unrest there.
UN aid workers and rights monitors must be allowed into the southern
Syrian city of Deraa, cradle of the uprising against Assad, and other
cities so as to assess the situation and needs of the civilian
population, Ban said.
"I urge President Assad to heed the calls of the people for reform and
freedom and desist from excessive force and mass arrests of peaceful
demonstrators, and to cooperate with the human rights monitors," he told
a news conference in Geneva.
Army tanks shelled a residential district in Homs on Wednesday, said a
rights campaigner in Syria's third city that has emerged as the most
populous center of the seven-week-old public defiance of Assad's rule.
Assad initially responded to the unrest, the most serious challenge to
his 11-year grip on power, with promises of reform. He granted
citizenship to stateless Kurds and last month lifted a 48-year state of
emergency. But a security clampdown went on."LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE"
"On the political side, again I have been urging him (Assad) to listen
more attentively, carefully and engage in inclusive dialogue with the
people," Ban said.
"Again I urged him to take bold and decisive measures before it is too late and I will continue to do that."
Syrian human rights groups say that up to 800 people have been killed
since the protests erupted in March, and hundreds more have been
Turning to Libya's civil war, Ban said he had spoken to Prime Minister
Baghdadi Ali Mahmoudi on Tuesday and called for an "immediate,
verifiable ceasefire" and a halt to attacks on civilians.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's government has made several ceasefire
declarations but continued attacks on the besieged western city of
Misrata and other rebel-held areas.
Gaddafi has not appeared publicly since April 30, when a NATO air strike
on a house in the capital killed his youngest son and three of his
Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky, asked whether Ban had raised with
Mahmoudi whether Gaddafi was alive, told Reuters: "It wasn't
discussed...We don't know."
On Egypt and Tunisia - where uprisings led to the ousting of President
Hosni Mubarak and Zine Abidine Ben Ali earlier this year - Ban said the
"revolutions" represented an opportunity to advance democracy and human
"This opportunity is precious but at the same time fragile. It must be
nurtured and carefully handled by the people who created it. I have
emphasized that this is a once in a generation opportunity so we must