Syrian forces killed 12 people in a funeral procession for anti-government activists, raising the two-day civilian death toll to at least 62, activists said.
The mourners were killed yesterday during the burial ceremony in Homs of 11 people killed the day before by security forces in the central city, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights said. At least one man was also killed by government forces during overnight raids on neighborhoods in the Damascus suburb of Sebqa, he said in a telephone interview.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed the 12 casualties in Homs, and said 50 civilians and 6 members of the army and security forces were also killed in the unrest after Friday weekly prayers. It didn’t mention the death in Sebqa. A total of 854 civilians and 140 army and security forces have been killed in about two months of protests and government repression in Syria, it said on its website.
President Barack Obama is seeking to encourage pro- democracy movements inspired by those that ousted longtime leaders in Tunisia and Egypt to create broader, regional changes, including a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. In a May 19 speech, Obama urged an end to crackdowns on protesters and told Syrian President Bashar al- Assad to lead a peaceful transition to democracy or “get out of the way.”
‘Window of Opportunity’
Amre Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, said Assad, whose family has ruled the country for 40 years, could remain in power if he “accelerates the pace toward reform.”
The Syrian uprising drew initial pledges of political and economic changes from Assad, who lifted an emergency law in place since 1963 and named a new government. He hasn’t repeated the assurances in recent weeks as authorities have stepped up their assaults.
“It is possible, but for a very short window of opportunity,” Moussa, a former foreign minister of Egypt, said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” scheduled to air today.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said that he has accepted a Gulf Cooperation Council plan for a transition of power as he sought to end the political turmoil in the country.
Signing the GCC-backed plan was a “coup on constitutional legitimacy” and the result of “pressure” from other nations, Saleh said during a televised speech at a military ceremony yesterday. Al-Qaeda militants will also strengthen their control in the country after his departure, Saleh said in the speech.
Political unrest in Yemen continued after Saleh previously refused to sign the GCC-sponsored accord, which calls for his departure and elections two months later. The GCC is made up of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Protesters in Bahrain have also faced government crackdowns. In Libya, rebels are engaged in a civil war with forces loyal to leader Muammar Qaddafi and Moussa said he doubted Qaddafi had the same chance as Assad.
“After all this bloodshed and all this confrontation, I don’t think Libya can get back to the status quo as if nothing happened,” Moussa said.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is visiting the rebel stronghold of Benghazi today where she will open up an office, the Libyan rebels’ National Transitional Council said in a statement yesterday.
Qaddafi, who is “effectively” in hiding, has only limited ability to communicate with his loyalist forces as a result of NATO’s air campaign, an alliance spokesman said May 20.
NATO carried out raids during the night that targeted Qaddafi’s residence and the port in the capital, Tripoli, Agence France-Presse reported today, citing an unidentified Libyan official.
Crude oil for June delivery rose $1.05 to close at $99.49 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange May 20. Oil prices fell 16 cents this week and have risen 15 percent since the Libya rebellion began February 17.
Elsewhere, Egypt is struggling to prevent the largely peaceful revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak from devolving into chaos, said Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and candidate for the Egyptian presidency along with Moussa.
“Right now, socially, we are disintegrating,” said ElBaradei, who was also interviewed on the “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program. “Economically we are not in the best state. Politically, it’s -- it’s like a black hole. We do now know where we are heading.”
He urged international investment as the economy struggles to overcome inflation, a budget deficit and a 60 percent drop in tourism.
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