Aug. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian security forces killed at least 15 anti-government protesters since yesterday as the U.S. and its European allies sought to freeze President Bashar al-Assad’s assets and impose an arms embargo on the country.
At least three protesters were shot dead today in the central city of Homs, while yesterday’s deaths took place across the Hama governorate, Homs and the northern province of Idlib, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone.
The U.S., Britain and France yesterday circulated a draft resolution to United Nations Security Council members that would freeze the foreign assets of Assad, his brother Maher, who commands a Syrian army division, and 21 other senior government officials. The president was excluded from the list of 22 officials whose travel from Syria would be barred.
Assad has used tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and helicopters to crush the most serious threat to his family’s 40-year rule. The uprisings began in mid-March after revolts ousted the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and sparked conflict in Libya.
There were nationwide protests late yesterday in the Damascus suburbs of Harasta, Kisweh and Douma and in the town of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon, Merhi said today.
Ten protesters were killed Aug. 22 in Hama, Homs, Aleppo and the southern area of Daraa, where rallies against Assad’s rule began, according to Merhi and Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.
Targeted by Proposal
The proposal for UN action also would freeze the assets of the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, the Military Housing Establishment and two entities that are described as funding Assad’s regime -- Al Mashreq Investment and Bena Properties. Sale of weaponry to Syria and the purchase of arms by his government would be banned, and all nations would be urged to inspect cargo going to or from Syria when there is reason to believe it might contain embargoed goods.
Russia today expressed a “strongly negative attitude” toward the draft resolution, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters after a Security Council meeting.
“We just believe it is the wrong course of action,” Churkin said. “We think it is only going to exacerbate the rifts in Syria and encourage further confrontation. We think that it is important to encourage reforms and give credit to reforms.”
China’s Deputy Ambassador Wang Min said his government was studying the text.
Some members of the largely fragmented Syrian opposition yesterday said from Istanbul that they had formed a so-called National Council to coordinate their activities and present a united front against Assad’s rule. One faction, the Antalya Group, announced it was withdrawing from the talks.
The UN Human Rights Council yesterday ordered an investigation into the crackdown on protesters, including possible crimes against humanity. The council condemned what it called “continued grave and systematic human-rights violations by Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human-rights defenders.”
Assad told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Aug. 18 that security operations had stopped. A day later, 40 protesters were killed in Homs, Daraa and a suburb of Damascus, according to Merhi and Qurabi.
“It’s troubling that he has not kept his word,” Ban told reporters in New York on Aug. 22.
Russia Rejects Demands
In Russia, the foreign-affairs committee chief in the lower house of parliament warned that efforts by western nations to force regime change in Syria after intervening to oust Qaddafi risk triggering the country’s collapse. Russia this week rejected demands from the U.S. and the EU for Assad to quit.
“I would advise all countries thinking about Syria to keep in mind the negative example of Libya,” the lawmaker, Konstantin Kosachyov, said in telephone interview in Moscow two days ago. “The risk of civil war there is even greater than in Libya, which would lead to the collapse of the country.”
At least 2,400 people have been killed since the protests started, according to Merhi’s and Qurabi’s organizations. The UN puts the death toll at more than 2,200. At least 500 members of the security forces have died, the government has said.
Assad, who succeeded his father as president after his death in 2000, has blamed the protests on foreign-inspired plots. In an interview on state television from Damascus on Aug. 21, he rejected U.S. and European demands to step down and pledged to schedule parliamentary elections by February and review the constitution. He called the U.S. and European nations “colonialist” powers that want to violate Syria’s sovereignty.
U.S. President Barack Obama, in a coordinated move with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, issued a statement on Aug. 18 saying Assad should leave and let Syrians chart their own political future.
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