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UN chief demands investigation into clampdown on Syrian protests

Ban Ki-moon condemns the use of force against demonstrators, as popular uprisings continue against president Bashar Assad.

Image: Misha Japaridze/AP

UNITED NATIONS secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has condemned Syria’s use of force against demonstrators, and called for an independent investigation into the handling of popular uprisings in the Middle Eastern country.

Speaking last night, Ban said he was convinced that “only an inclusive dialogue and genuine reform can address the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and restore peace and social order.”

Ban called for a mandate of the UN’s Human Rights Council or its Security Council, and was speaking ahead of a behind-closed-doors meeting of the latter, though it was unclear this morning whether any progress had been made in passing a resolution calling for action.

The 15-member council cannot pass motions if any single member opposes them; the membership of the council currently includes Russia and the Lebanon, both of whom have close ties to Syria.

China’s UN ambassador told reporters before the meeting that his country wanted “to get engaged with everybody and try to find a solution and to push for a political solution.”

European leaders have also escalated their criticism of the Syrian crackdown, with the French president Nicolas Sarkozy calling the current situation “unacceptable,” and Britain’s foreign minister William Hague raising the possibility of sanctions.

Even the Arab League said that those in the region demanding freedom and democracy “require support, and not shooting with bullets.”

Syrian forces heaped more punishment on residents of some towns yesterday, detaining hundreds in raids or at checkpoints, firing on people trying to retrieve the bodies of anti-government protesters, and even shooting holes in rooftop water tanks in a region parched by drought, witnesses said.

In the southern city of Daraa, where Syrian army tanks and snipers have killed at least 34 people in the last two days, a resident said security forces shot and killed a man as he walked out of the main Omari mosque and shouted at them though a bullhorn: “Enough! Enough! Enough! Stop killing your brothers!”

The crackdown by President Bashar Assad has intensified since Friday, when more than 100 people were killed. Security forces also conducted raids in the Damascus suburb of Douma and the northern coastal town of Jableh.

Human rights groups estimate that more than 400 people have been killed since mid-March as the Assad regime has tried to crush the uprising.

Additional reporting by AP

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Gavan Reilly

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