News / Middle East

Syrian Activists: Government Forces Arrest Dozens

An image from footage uploaded on May 11, 2011 by Sham SNN, a Syrian opposition web channel, shows Syrian army vehicles deployed in the central industrial city of Homs
An image from footage uploaded on May 11, 2011 by Sham SNN, a Syrian opposition web channel, shows Syrian army vehicles deployed in the central industrial city of Homs

Syrian activists say the government has arrested dozens of people and deployed tanks around cities in central Syria in a widening crackdown on opposition protesters.

The activists say Syrian security forces detained residents of the coastal city of Banias and nearby villages on Thursday.

Banias is one of several Syrian cities where opponents of President Bashar al-Assad had been rallying in recent weeks for democratic reforms and an end to his 11-year autocratic rule. The protests began in southern Syria in mid-March and spread nationwide.

Rights groups say Syrian authorities also arrested prominent rights campaigner Najati Tayara in Homs, a day after he reported that Syrian troops were firing on residential areas of Syria's third-largest city.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday accused the Syrian government of engaging in "unlawful detention, torture and denial of medical care" to wounded people. She said some people may see such behavior as a sign of strength, but Washington believes that treating one's own people in that way is a sign of remarkable weakness.

Speaking on a visit to Greenland, Clinton also criticized Syria's alliance with Iran, saying that "relying on Iran as your best friend and only strategic ally is not a viable way forward."

Syria has faced strong criticism from Western powers for its violent suppression of the opposition movement, but the reaction from other nations has been muted.

China's foreign ministry said Thursday the international community "should not interfere in Syria's internal affairs" and "avoid complicating the situation."

In other developments, rights groups say Syrian tanks deployed Thursday around the central city of Hama. The late President Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president, shelled the city in 1982 to suppress a Sunni uprising.  Rights groups say at least 10,000 people were killed .

Syria's opposition is calling for more protests Friday, the traditional Muslim day of prayer. Syrian rights activists say the number of people killed across the country in the anti-government uprising ranges from 600 to 700.

There is no independent confirmation of casualty figures because Syria has banned most international journalists from the country.

In an apparent gesture to the opposition, Syria's state news agency said Thursday Prime Minister Adel Safar has introduced a new program to employ 10,000 university graduates annually at government institutions.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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