US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that about 1,000 people had been killed in a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Syria and called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to halt the violence.
“This cruelty must end and the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people must be honored,” Clinton said during a news conference with her British counterpart, William Hague.
“Foreign Secretary Hague and I are both absolutely consistent with our message to the Assad government,” she added.
“Stop the killings, the beatings, the arrests, release all political prisoners and detainees. Begin to respond to the demands that are upon you for a process of credible and -inclusive -democratic change,” she said, speaking shortly before US President Barack Obama begins a state visit to Britain.
The EU earlier imposed sanctions on Assad and other senior officials, raising pressure on his government to end weeks of violence against protesters.
It followed the US which last week extended sanctions to Assad and six senior officials.
“President Assad faces a choice. He can lead the transition to democracy ... or he can, as President Obama said on Thursday, get out of the way,” Clinton said. “But there is no doubt that if he does not begin to lead that process, his regime will face continuing and increasing pressure and isolation.”
Clinton said the US was “dismayed” at Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s refusal to sign a transition agreement that would see him cede power.
“President Saleh has agreed on multiple occasions to sign it. Once again, he is failing to live up to those promises,” she said.
“We urge President Saleh to immediately follow through on his repeated commitments to peacefully transfer power,” Clinton added. “This is critical for the peace and security that the Yemeni people are seeking.”
Clinton said an attack on a Pakistani naval air force base was “another reminder of the terrible price the Pakistani people have borne in their own struggle against violent extremism.”
Troops recaptured the base on Monday after a 16-hour battle with Taliban gunmen who had launched the attack to avenge the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“Pakistan has hard choices to make ... It needs international support to deal with political and economic problems and the threats it faces from internal violence,” Clinton said.
Damascus remains relatively untouched by the pro-democracy protests roiling Syria, but even supporters of the regime in the capital are becoming edgy about the mounting death toll and wondering where the country is headed.
While on the surface all appears normal in the city, with shops open, traffic jams and crowded sidewalks, it is clear that the unrest is on everyone’s mind and that with each new demonstration, casualty and sanction the tension rises a notch.
Many hunker down in their homes at night instead of socializing, while some evening events are being canceled or moved up so that residents can rush home early.
“Two weeks ago, we still believed the government’s assertion that everything was under control and that the crisis was over,” said one local resident, traditionally a supporter of Assad.
“But the future suddenly looks dark and I wonder down what path the regime is taking us,” added the woman, who like others mentioned in this article refused to be named.
Many people in the metropolis of about 4 million — where the Alawite-controlled authoritarian regime has a strong base of support among minority Christians and members of the Sunni bourgeoisie — seem baffled by the turn of events.
“It is beginning to sink in that this is not going to be over soon and that the country is undergoing major change,” one businessman said. “Nothing will be the same as before anymore.”