Six dead in protests as Turkey joins civil war warning for Syria

Six dead in protests as Turkey joins civil war warning for Syria

DAMASCUS - Agence France-Presse

Security forces killed at least six people in protests called to urge nations to expel Syrian ambassadors today, activists said, as Turkey joined Russia in warning of the risk of civil war.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, meanwhile, said in Turkey ahead of a tour of Arab countries that it was time for the UN Security Council to take punitive measures against Damascus.

"I say there is a risk of transforming into civil war," his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu told AFP, pointing to army defectors attacking key regime targets, a day after Moscow raised the same risk.

"It is now the right time to stop this massacre, and therefore the Arab initiative is important," he said. "If it is not successful of course there is always a risk of civil war or high level tension in Syria."

Juppe, for his part, said the Syrian regime was "not willing to implement a reform programme and now it is too late."

The French minister said the "time has come to increase sanctions" against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad through the Security Council. "The ongoing repression is unacceptable," he told reporters in Ankara.

On the ground, three people were killed in the Damascus region, one each in the central cities of Homs and Hama, and a 14-year-old boy was shot dead in the southern town of Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

And SANA, the state news agency, said two members of the security forces were killed and an officer was critically wounded in a bomb blast in Hama.

Yesterday, Syrian forces killed at least 16 people, including two children, according to the Syrian Observatory, despite an Arab League ultimatum that Damascus halt the bloodshed or risk sanctions.

Dozens of people were also wounded overnight in the town of Yabroud, north of Damascus, when security forces opened fired at protesters who torched a police station, it added.

Activists called the protests after weekly Muslim prayers on Friday to urge countries around the world to expel Syrian ambassadors.

"They are the ambassadors of crime. Expel them, oh free ones," the Syrian Revolution 2011, one of the main groups behind the protests, said on its Facebook page.

"Today we want to impress the regime by the strength of our protests ... We want the regime to hear us as we call for the fall of the regime, its ambassadors and its politicians," it added.

The Arab League on Wednesday gave the Syrian regime three days to halt the eight months of deadly violence against its people that the United Nations says has cost more than 3,500 lives or face economic sanctions.

The Arab bloc has also suspended Syria's membership over its violent crackdown on dissent, although the Arab League has since said it is preparing to send 500 observers to the country.

Meanwhile the United States disagreed with a Russian assessment that attacks by renegade Syrian troops risked plunging Syria into civil war, blaming the regime in Damascus for the violence.

"We think that's an incorrect assessment," US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned of civil war in Syria.

"We don't view it as a civil war," he said.

After Wednesday's attack by army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army on a military intelligence base outside Damascus, Lavrov said: "If the opposition is going to use such methods it will lead... to full-scale civil war."

Russia has been deeply opposed to Western efforts to internationalise the crisis, fearing it might clear the way for a Libya-style Western military intervention under a UN mandate.

On October 4, Russia and China vetoed a Western-drafted Security Council resolution that would have threatened Assad's regime with "targeted measures" over its crackdown