Europe tightens sanctions on Syria in effort to end crackdown
DAMASCUS — The European Union expanded sanctions against Syria in a push to end a violent crackdown on opponents of President Bashar Assad, freezing the assets of an organization affiliated with his government.
The move brings to 19 the number of Syrian groups blacklisted by the EU, which said it will release the name of the organization tomorrow. The EU announcement came as Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers in London that Britain had summoned Syria's ambassador to warn him against the intimidation of Syrians in Britain who oppose Assad's rule.
"Today's decision is a direct consequence of the appalling and brutal campaign the Syrian regime is waging against its own people," the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said in an e-mail from Brussels. "Our measures are not aimed at the Syrian people, but aim to deprive the regime of financial revenues and the support base necessary to maintain the repression."
Protests to demand Assad's ouster started in March as part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa this year that has unseated governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Assad has blamed the demonstrations in Syria on foreign-backed extremists. At least 4,000 Syrian civilians have been killed by security forces, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.
"We will go on working with other nations to intensify the pressure on the regime," Hague said. He reiterated calls by the EU and the United States for Assad to step down, saying, "Too much blood has been spilled for this regime to recover its credibility."
Meanwhile, Syrian troops clashed with armed men believed to be military defectors in a southern village and a northwestern town, killing at least 13 people in the latest sign that the 7-month-old uprising against Assad is becoming increasingly militarized, activists said.
In an attempt by the regime to show it still had the upper hand, the government took journalists on a tour of a central town where the most serious insurrection in recent weeks drew a crushing response. Many buildings in Rastan were burned, shops were shuttered and soldiers manned military checkpoints.
Several residents told of gunmen who they said terrorized the area. And government escorts displayed rifles and other light weapons they insisted had been seized from gangs or terrorists, rather than army defectors.
Despite the spiraling violence and continuing protests, Assad said Syria has "passed the most difficult period" and is now working to become "a model to be followed in the region." He was apparently referring to promised political reforms, most of which have yet to be delivered. The comments, to a visiting Lebanese delegation, were reported by the official news agency.