US rejects Syrian charge that envoy incited protests

State Department says Robert Ford was in fact greeted by friendly protesters who welcomed him; 4 killed in protests around country.

By REUTERS
July 9, 2011 09:12
2 minute read.
Hama, Syria

Syria protest 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday rejected a charge by Syria that the US ambassador to Damascus had sought to incite protests in the tense city of Hama, saying the American envoy was welcomed with flowers and olive branches by peaceful civilians seeking political change.

US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford arrived in Hama on Thursday and drove back the next day to the city center before tens of thousands of people staged new demonstrations demanding the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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"When he got into the city the car was immediately surrounded by friendly protesters who were putting flowers on the windshields, they were putting olive branches on the car, they were chanting 'down with the regime,'" said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.

Ford decided not to stay so as "not to become the story himself" and left before the protests got under way, she said.

Still, Ford's visit was unusual, as foreign ambassadors normally avoid even the perception they are interfering in a host country's internal affairs.

Separately, the State Department said it had called in the Syrian ambassador to Washington after receiving reports that Syrian diplomats had conducted surveillance of people protesting in the United States.

Assistant Secretary of State Eric Boswell summoned Ambassador Imad Mustapha on Wednesday after reports of the alleged surveillance, the State Department said on Friday.



It said it was also investigating reports that the Syrian government has sought retribution against Syrian family members for the actions of their relatives protesting in the United States.

"The United States Government takes very seriously reports of any foreign government actions attempting to intimidate individuals in the United States," the State Department said in a statement.

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turmoil in the Middle East

Violence continued throughout Syria on Friday as tens of thousands of Syrians gathered in Hama on Friday to protest against Assad.

Activists said security forces shot dead four people elsewhere, including one in the Damascus district of Midan.

Hama has seen some of the biggest demonstrations against Assad and was also the site of a brutal crackdown by his father nearly 30 years ago, painful memories of which were revived by Assad's deployment of tanks outside the city this week.

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