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Armed Clashes in Syria Leave Scores Dead in Anti-Assad Campaign

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian army defectors clashed with state forces yesterday in a drive to topple President Bashar al-Assad as activists staged a strike against the regime.

Government forces killed more than 40 demonstrators across the country over the weekend, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Thirteen soldiers died in clashes with armed groups, according to SANA, a state-run news agency, as the violence threatened to devolve into civil war.

“The general strike took place in several Syrian cities and has terrified the regime as the Hama governor threatened to seal off the stores in the city and forces threatened to set these stores on fire,” Ali Hassan, spokesman for the Syrian Revolution Council, an opposition group, told Al Arabiya in an interview.

The protests of Assad’s government followed successful efforts to topple regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. Longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was killed by revolutionary forces in that country and Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned last month in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Security forces opened fire at protesters demanding Assad’s ouster, killing at least 43 people since Dec. 9, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory, said in an e-mailed statement from London.

Tanks Burnt

Heavy clashes between the Syrian army and defectors in the southern province of Daraa were reported by the Observatory, which said three army tanks were burnt. Security forces killed 14 people yesterday, Al Jazeera television said, without specifying where. More troops have defected in recent days and the clashes occurred as they sought to protect civilians from attacks by government forces, Al Jazeera reported.

The Syrian National Council, an umbrella group uniting several opposition groups, said the United Nations is unable to prevent the regime from “killing its innocent citizens and shedding their blood in front of the whole world,” and called on other countries to intervene in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

More than 5,000 people have been killed opposing the government and the number of detainees has reached more than 15,000, the statement said. The UN has said 4,000 people have been killed in the violence.

The Arab League foreign ministers will discuss Syria in a special Dec. 17 meeting at its Cairo headquarters, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported yesterday, citing an unidentified diplomat.

Investment Falls

Foreign direct investment in Arab states has fallen as much as 24 percent this year as political unrest swept the region, according to the group that insures such funding against non-commercial risks.

Foreign financing will shrink to between $50 billion and $55 billion in 2011 from $66.2 billion the previous year, the Arab Investment & Export Credit Guarantee Corp., known as Dhaman, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Egypt’s Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri said the country may resort to foreign borrowing “if we have to” and that the country’s economy is far worse than anyone can imagine.

Gross domestic product expanded 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June and Egypt has spent almost half its foreign currency reserves in the past 11 months.

Suncor Energy Inc. plans to withdraw workers from Syria and cancel supply contracts following European Union-imposed sanctions on the country.

Saleh’s Trial Demanded

In Yemen, hundreds of thousands of protesters in the capital Sana’a and across the country demanded that Saleh face trial for his regime’s attacks on critics of the government, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

A new Yemeni government was sworn in yesterday, pledging to end violence and restore basic services to the country. The protesters also rejected the unity government, which includes former members of Saleh’s administration, according to the AP.

In Tunisia, where the so-called Arab spring uprisings began, a newly elected parliament passed a provisional constitution that gives the assembly broad powers to govern the country and overhaul the bureaucracy, according to the Financial Times.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Snyder in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at

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