France urges Syria to embrace dialogue, change

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 24, 2011 5:11 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - France urged Syria on Thursday to open up to dialogue and democratic change, after Syrian forces killed six people in an attack on protesters and opened fire on hundreds of youths marching in solidarity.

In all, 14 civilians have been killed by Syrian forces in six days of demonstrations for political freedom and an end to corruption, in a protest movement spreading across the Arab world since a popular uprising in Tunisia late last year.

"We urge Syria to listen to the voice of dialogue and of democracy," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters.

"A great change is under way. For a long time, France's Arab policy aimed for stability. Today, Arab policy is to listen to the aspirations of the people and that applies to Syria, which must take on board this widespread movement."

France, the former colonial ruler of Tunisia and Syria, has repeatedly condemned what it says is excessive force being used in Syria and has called for an investigation into civilian deaths and the release of detained protesters.

France's relations with Syria were strained by the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, where initial U.N. reports implicated Syrian and Lebanese security agencies but Damascus denied any involvement.

Since 2008, Paris has sought to improve ties with Damascus.

(Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Catherine Bremer)