Syrians protest against Assad after Russia U.N. move

Fri Dec 16, 2011 9:22pm GMT

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian forces killed 13 people on Friday during widespread protests against President Bashar al-Assad, activists said, a day after Syria's big power ally Russia sharpened its criticism of Damascus in a draft United Nations resolution.

Most of the deaths were in the city of Homs, they said, a hotbed of resistance to a crackdown on nine months of protests which has killed 5,000 people according to the United Nations and provoked Western and Arab League sanctions on Damascus.

State media said there were no deaths or injuries on Friday, despite what they said were attacks by "armed terrorist groups" on security forces. Syria has barred most independent media, making it hard to verify accounts by activists and authorities.

About 200,000 people marched in separate districts of Homs, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, and footage broadcast by Al Jazeera television showed mock gallows where effigies were hanged, including two of Assad and his father, who seized power in Syria four decades ago.

If confirmed, it would be one the biggest turnouts by demonstrators for several weeks.

Russia presented a new, beefed-up draft resolution on the violence to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, offering a chance for the 15-nation panel to overcome deadlock and deliver its first statement of purpose on Assad's crackdown.

The council has been split, with Western countries harshly critical of Syria pitted against Russia, China and non-aligned countries that have avoided blaming Assad for the violence.

France, which has led Western rebukes of Assad, welcomed what it said was Moscow's recognition of the deteriorating situation in Syria, but said Russia was wrong to equate Assad's crackdown with violence perpetrated by his opponents.   Continued...

Demonstrators against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gather in Homs December 13, 2011.  REUTERS/Handout
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