Anti-Government Protests Swell in Syria

Posted September 30th, 2011 at 10:35 am (UTC-5)
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Thousands of protesters in Syria have renewed calls for President Bashar al-Assad's departure, while Syrian forces continue to battle a band of army deserters backing the opposition.

Activists say anti-government rallies unfolded across Syria, following midday prayers on Friday. Earlier in the day, Syrian officials said seven soldiers and police personnel were killed in an operation targeting what they called “terrorists” in Homs province.

The state news agency says the deaths come amid a two-day offensive in the central town of Rastan. Several soldiers were wounded in the fighting.

Rastan has been the scene of intense clashes as Syrian troops attempt to crush army deserters who have formed rebel units around the town.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Syrian authorities to protect foreign diplomats after a pro-government mob attempted to assault U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford and other American diplomats as they arrived for a meeting with a leading opposition figure in the capital, Damascus.

Ford was confronted by an angry mob as he prepared to meet Hassan Abdel-Azim, a moderate who has demanded an end to Mr. Assad's crackdown on dissent as a condition for any opposition dialogue with the government.

Clinton called Thursday's incident “wholly unjustified” and demanded that Syrian authorities fulfill their international obligations to protect all foreign diplomats and diplomatic property.