US President Barack Obama says the time has come for Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign for the sake of his brutally repressed people.
In a stinging written statement, Obama said Assad has overseen a vicious onslaught of his people as they protest for freedoms. He said the Syrian people will decide their country’s future, but Assad is standing in their way and must go.
Obama said Assad’s calls for reform ring hollow while he is “imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering his own people.”
This was Obama’s first explicit call for Assad to step down. His administration was also slapping new sanctions on Syria.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to speak about the government’s tougher stance later yesterday.
Meanwhile, Assad told the UN chief that military operations in his country have ended, even as activists reported more bloodshed overnight and a high-level UN human rights team said yesterday the crackdown “may amount to crimes against humanity.”
In a report released in Geneva, the UN team said the violence in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court. Crimes against humanity are considered the most serious of all international rights violations after genocide.
“The mission found a pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity,” the UN investigators said in their 22-page report.
Much of Syria was quiet after sunrise yesterday, although activists reported intense shooting at about noon in the flash-point city of Latakia. On Wednesday, security forces killed 18 people across the country, activists said.
Assad is coming under mounting criticism for his crackdown on a five-month-old uprising. Human rights groups and witnesses accuse Syrian troops of firing on largely unarmed protesters and they say more than 1,800 civilians have been killed since mid-March.
Assad has unleashed tanks and ground troops in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas. The military assault has escalated dramatically since the start of Ramadan last month.