European Union top diplomat Catherine Ashton has called Syria to task over its violent crackdowns on protesters. Clashes with security forces have left dozens of anti-regime demonstrators dead.
Protesters want President Bashar Assad to step down
The European Union's top diplomat condemned Syria's violent crackdowns on anti-government protesters and called for the Syrian government to implement significant reforms.
"I strongly condemn the continuing violence and deaths in Syria in the context of protests calling for freedom and democracy," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Saturday in a statement. "I urge in the strongest terms the Syrian authorities to immediately put an end to the violence.
"Meaningful political reforms guaranteeing freedom of expression, fundamental rights and the rule of law must begin now," she added.
Ashton said Syrians should be able to "express their grievances without fear of intimidation, repression and arrest."
Anti-government protests, in their fourth week in the country, have faced increasingly violent government crackdowns.
Dozens of protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces
Earlier Saturday, Syrian security forces reportedly opened fire on mourners in the southwestern city of Daraa, where a mass funeral had taken place for pro-democracy protesters killed the day before in a government crackdown.
Security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse thousands of people after the funerals of 17 people who were gunned down Friday in Daraa, and another 10 killed in surrounding villages.
Ammar Qurabi, chairman of the Syrian National Human Rights Organization, said 30 people had been killed on Friday in Daraa, the epicenter of protests, as well as three in the central city of Homs and four others in the Damascus suburbs of Harasta and Douma.
Syrian rights activists estimated more than 130 people had been killed in clashes with security forces by Friday since March 15, mainly in Daraa and Latakia.
Amnesty International reported the overall figure to be at least 171.
Syria's Interior Ministry meanwhile accused "plotters pushed by known foreign sides" of firing at protesters to turn the people against the police.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told ambassadors in Damascus that "subversive elements infiltrated the protesters and opened fire on the police and the protesters to drag the country into violence and cause chaos."
Assad has promised to have a committee look into repealing the emergency law
Protesters are demanding the resignation of President Bashar Assad. His Baath party took power in a coup in 1963, banning all opposition parties and imposing an emergency law that is still in force.
In an attempt to calm anti-regime protests, Assad earlier this month fired his cabinet and several regional governors, promising the release of political prisoners and the creation of a committee to begin looking into repealing the emergency law.
In a concession to conservative Muslims, Assad has also closed Syria's only casino.
Ashton said Saturday ahead of an EU foreign ministers meeting that the announcement of reforms must "be backed by credible action on the ground."
Syria is expected to be high on the agenda as ministers meet in Luxembourg on Tuesday.
Author: David Levitz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Sean Sinico