Clinton condemns Syrian violence

AP News
Posted: Apr 20, 2011 3:19 PM
Clinton condemns Syrian violence

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rapped the Syrian government on Wednesday for its harsh repression of peaceful protests, and said authorities were arresting people without cause and torturing prisoners.

Clinton also decried violence from some Syrian protesters, but issued the far sharper condemnation to the regime of President Bashar Assad. She spoke as thousands of students held demonstrations in Syria's streets, brushing off their president's pledges of reform in the most significant challenge to four decades of control by the Assad family.

Syria's government "must stop the arbitrary arrests, detentions and torture of prisoners, and it must cease the violence," Clinton told reporters at the State Department.

She said an end to violence by both sides must be accompanied by a serious process that would give Syrians a greater say in the governance of their country, with the implicit suggestion that Assad's government has failed thus far to do so.

This week, the Syrian government has done away with 50 years of an emergency law that gave authorities almost boundless powers of surveillance and arrest. And Assad, a British-trained eye doctor who inherited power 11 years ago, has granted citizenship to thousands among Syria's long-ostracized Kurdish minority, fired local officials, released detainees and formed a new government.

But his pledges of widespread reform have come alongside violent shows of strength by his forces and American officials have been unimpressed, consistently saying that they will judge the Syrian leader by actions to meet the demands of demonstrators.

Clinton said the protesters have "legitimate needs, interests and aspirations."

Speaking after she met with Haiti's President-elect Michel Martelly, Clinton said she was particularly concerned about the situation in the city of Homs, where demonstrators and security forces clashed over the weekend and where security forces Tuesday opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas during a pre-dawn raid on hundreds of anti-government protesters. At least 12 people died in the weekend violence and several more have been killed since.

Clinton said it was difficult to confirm reports of violence and casualties among both civilians and government personnel because Syrian authorities are blocking journalists from accessing many areas.

She said the government "must allow free movement and free access," even as the threat of violence persists.