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EU condemns 'appalling' Syrian crackdown, urges reforms

A deadly crackdown by Syrian security forces during weekend funerals has sparked international condemnation and calls by activists for an independent investigation into recent killings.

Syrian anti-government protesters march during a demonstration in Banias, Syria

Syria's use of force against mourners has sparked condemnation

The European Union has strongly condemned violent attacks by Syrian police against demonstrators. EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, demanded that the violence cease immediately.

She denounced the violence as "appalling and intolerable" and called for "profound political reforms. It is essential that these reforms begin now and follow a concrete timetable."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the violence against peaceful demonstrators was "unacceptable."

"The German government condemns it in the strongest terms," he said in a statement calling for a probe of Friday's crackdown.

Meanwhile, US-based Human Rights Watch called for an independent probe into recent killings and urged international sanctions against those who ordered the shooting.

"After Friday's carnage, it is no longer enough to condemn the violence," Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Security forces and gunmen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have killed at least 112 people over the last two days, when they fired at protesters demanding political freedoms on Friday and on mass funerals for victims on Saturday.

Boy carries sign that reads No terrorism, we want freedom

Protesters are demanding more freedoms and the president's resignation

Russia joined UN chief Ban Ki-moon and a host of Western governments, including the United States, Britain and France to condemn the violence.

A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry called Syria a "friend" but urged Damascus to address protesters' demands.

In Washington, US President Barack Obama called for Damascus to end the violence immediately.

"The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators. This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now," Obama said in a statement.

Two lawmakers resign

Thousands of Syrians kept up the pressure on Assad to resign by gathering at a funeral for protesters killed by security forces in the southern town of Nawa, according to witnesses.

Mourners carried banners calling for the repeal of an article in the constitution that designates the Baath Party as the leader of the state and society. They also chanted "Long live Syria, down with Bashar!" witnesses said.

Meanwhile two members of the Syrian parliament resigned their seats on Saturday in protest against the government's crackdown on the day's funeral processions.

Lawmakers Naser al-Harir and Khalil al-Rifaei announced their resignations on Al-Jazeera, the news network, citing frustration over not being able to protect their constituents from violence.

Syrian protesters in Banias

The Syrian people continue to stage street protests

The two men represented the city of Deraa, a hub of anti-government demonstrations near Nawa.

"Security solutions do not work," Rifaei said. "I urge the president to intervene immediately."

The government-appointed mufti, or Muslim preacher, in Deraa also resigned his post in protest.

"Being assigned to give fatwas (religious edicts), I submit my resignation as a result of the fall of victims and martyrs by police fire," Rezq Adulrahman Abazeid told Al-Jazeera.

"When they announce at high levels that [protesters] will not be shot at we see that the truth on the ground is not like that," he said.

Emergency rule lifted

Friday’s demonstrations took place in spite of decrees issued on Thursday by President Assad ending almost five decades of emergency rule and abolishing special state security courts that had been used to try people seen as threats to the regime. Other restrictive laws remain in place, however, and the opposition has increased its pressure on the government.

President Bashar Al-Assad

President Assad lifted emergency rule Thursday

Protest leaders demanded on Friday the abolition of an article in the constitution guaranteeing the Baath Party's monopoly of power and position in society.

"All prisoners of conscience must be freed," they said in a statement. "The existing security apparatus has to be dismantled and replaced by one with specific jurisdiction and which operates according to law."

Syrians have been protesting against Assad's 11-year rule since March 18. More than 300 people have been killed in crackdowns on the unrest.

Authors: Spencer Kimball, Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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