White House calls on Syria's Assad to 'change course'

"Syria's deplorable actions toward its people warrant strong int'l action," US spokesman Carney says; Obama introduces new sanctions.

By REUTERS
April 30, 2011 01:16
2 minute read.
Assad

Assad 311 reuters. (photo credit: reuters)

The White House, which issued new sanctions on Syria on Friday, called for President Bashar al-Assad to "change course now."

"In addition to actions that we are taking, the United States believes that Syria's deplorable actions toward its people warrant a strong international response," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

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US President Barack Obama signed an executive order earlier on Friday imposing new sanctions against Syria's intelligence agency and two relatives of Assad in response to a crackdown on protests, senior US officials said.

Assad was not among those targeted for the sanctions, which will include asset freezes and bans on US business dealings, but he could be named later if violence by government forces against pro-democracy protesters continues, the officials said.

European Union member states reached preliminary agreement on Friday to impose an arms embargo on Syria and consider other restrictive measures in response to Syria's crackdown on protests, diplomats said.

At a meeting in Brussels, ambassadors of EU governments gave a preliminary green light to the arms embargo, which will have to be formalized in the coming days. They also asked EU experts to prepare plans for possible travel bans and asset freezes that could be imposed on the Syrian leadership.

"There was political agreement for an arms embargo," one EU diplomat said. "They also agreed to prepare for individual sanctions."

The UN Human Rights Council also adopted a resolution criticizing Syria.

A Syrian rights group said this week at least 500 civilians had been killed since the unrest broke out in Deraa on March 18. Authorities dispute the death toll, saying 78 security forces and 70 civilians died in violence they blame on armed groups.

State news agency SANA said on Friday an "armed terrorist group" killed four soldiers and kidnapped two in Deraa, where Assad sent tanks and troops to crush resistance on Monday.

But a witness in Deraa said Syrian forces fired live rounds at thousands of villagers who descended on the besieged city.

"They shot at people at the western gate of Deraa in the Yadoda area, almost three km (two miles) from the centre of the city," he said.

The latest violence broke out after Friday prayers as thousands of people hit the streets across the country demanding Assad's removal and pledging support for the residents of Deraa.

"The people want the overthrow of the regime!" demonstrators chanted in many protests, witnesses said.

More demonstrations flared in the central cities of Homs and Hama, Banias on the Mediterranean coast, Qamishly in eastern Syria and Harasta, a Damascus suburb.

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