As U.S. President Barack Obama and European leaders call on Bashar al-Assad to step down as president of Syria, witnesses inside the country say security forces continued to arrest scores of people in the last 24 hours.
Obama urged Assad to step aside “for the sake of the Syrian people,” insisting that he is “standing in their way.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reinforced the president's statement, saying the Syrian people deserve a better future.
"The people of Syria deserve a government that respects their dignity, protects their rights, and lives up to their aspirations. Assad is standing in their way. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for him to step aside and leave this transition to the Syrians themselves,” said Clinton.
The remarks came as witnesses told Arab satellite channels of ongoing arrests in the cities of Latikiya, Hama and Homs, and security crackdowns elsewhere.
A Syrian opposition group on the Facebook Internet site showed videos of demonstrators chanting against the government Thursday in the city of Homs, amid claims of a general strike. Other protests reportedly took place overnight in Hama, in Aleppo and in the Damascus suburb of Douma. It is impossible to independently verify the claims, however, since most foreign correspondents are not being allowed into the country.
Syrian government television denied that a protest took place in Aleppo Wednesday night, showing a small group of government supporters gathered in the same square where the opposition video showed protesters gathering, earlier.
Opposition videos also showed a man identified as a Syrian captain, alongside his men, saying he had defected from the Syrian Army in order to protect the people. He said he and his men are defecting, rather than obey orders to kill civilians in the defense of a cruel and deadly regime.
Video from government TV showed Assad addressing members of his Ba'ath Party in Damascus to discuss proposed reforms. Opposition activists are insisting, however, that Assad step aside and that it is too late for reforms.