Syria: EU imposes sanctions on President Assad

Bashar al-Assad (27 March 2010) Bashar al-Assad's government insists it is pursuing "armed terrorist gangs"

The EU has imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the first time to pressure him to end his brutal crackdown on dissent, officials say.

Foreign ministers agreed at a meeting in Brussels to add Mr Assad and nine other officials to a list affected by travel bans and asset freezes.

The EU had already imposed sanctions on the president's brother, four of his cousins and others in his inner circle.

Five people were shot dead at funerals in Homs on Saturday, activists say.

They were mourning some of the anti-government protesters killed by security forces after Friday prayers in the city, in central Syria.

At least 44 people are believed to have been shot dead during Friday's nationwide demonstrations. But the government said only 17 people had been killed by armed gangs at small gatherings.

Human rights activists say more than 850 people have been killed and thousands arrested since the operation to quell dissent began in March.

'Unacceptable violence'

Monday's EU announcement of sanctions came after US President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Mr Assad for human rights abuses - the first time he had been targeted by the international community.

Abu Dirar, a Damascus resident, said troops were using swords and knives

"President Assad now has a choice. He can lead that transition or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests," Mr Obama said in a speech last week.

The 10 individuals affected by EU sanctions will not be named until Tuesday, but the Council of the European Union said it condemned "in the strongest terms the ongoing repression in Syria and the unacceptable violence used by the military and security forces against peaceful protesters which have lead to hundreds of fatalities".

Start Quote

I believe we are living a critical and interesting moment. Something like this happens every 200 or 300 years”

End Quote Anwar al-Bunni Syrian human rights lawyer

"Those responsible for this violence should be held accountable. The EU expresses it condolences to the families of the victims and salutes the courage of the Syrian people."

It added: "The EU urges the Syrian authorities to respond to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people by launching an inclusive and genuine national dialogue and by implementing without delay and through a concrete timetable, meaningful political reforms."

"This is the only way to initiate a peaceful transition to democracy and provide stability for Syria in the long term."

On 10 May, the EU unveiled an asset freeze and visa ban on 13 top Syrian officials, including the president's younger brother, Maher al-Assad. He was described as "principal overseer" of the violence.

The Syrian government insists it is pursuing "armed terrorist gangs".

Meanwhile, the Syrian human rights lawyer, Anwar al-Bunni, was released from prison over the weekend. He was detained for his involvement with the Beirut-Damascus declaration, which urged improved ties with Lebanon, and given a five-year sentence in April 2007.

Mr Bunni told the AFP news agency on Monday: "My freedom is not really complete because there are still many others held in prison."

"I believe we are living a critical and interesting moment. Something like this happens every 200 or 300 years. Even if it stops now, it is obvious that there will be a big change," he added.

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