Bloody Friday Precedes Annan’s Syria Visit

Posted March 9th, 2012 at 9:45 am (UTC-5)
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Renewed efforts to end the violence in Syria are being overshadowed by more demonstrations and deaths.

Syrian opposition groups say at least 19 people died Friday as thousands took to the streets across the country to rally against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of the deaths occurred in the Homs, the city that has been a focus of the government's crackdown against protest.

The renewed bloodshed comes as former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, representing the U.N. and the Arab League, prepared to visit Syria Saturday to try to find a political solution to the crisis. Mr. Annan has warned against arming rebel forces, saying foreign intervention would make the situation worse.

Opposition groups contend a political solution is unrealistic as long as President Assad is intent on using force against his opponents.

Despite the continued bloodshed, China is voicing support for Annan's mission, saying it hopes that “impartial mediation” can result in peace talks. China, along with Russia, has twice vetoed U.N. Security Council proposals that would have put pressure on Mr. Assad's government to end the conflict.

However, some foreign diplomats say the end of the Assad government may be in sight.

Germany Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Friday that “the collapse of the Assad regime has started and will continue. No country can be led with atrocity and oppression.”

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos toured Syrian refugee camps along the Turkish-Syrian border on Friday before holding talks with officials in Ankara. At least 11,000 Syrians have sought refuge at the camps as government forces target rebellious areas along the border.

The U.N. estimates that Syrian forces have killed well over 7,500 people since the anti-Assad uprising began a year ago. The government blames “terrorists” for the unrest, saying that 2,000 of its security forces have been killed in the conflict.

(German) Guido Westerwelle, German Foreign Minister:

“It is a good message we are receiving from Syria that high state representatives and (members of the) military are turning their back on the Assad regime. The process of the collapse of the Assad regime has started and will continue. No country can be led with atrocity and oppression.”