Middle East

UN's Ban Ki-moon presses Syria to allow missions

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has renewed calls for Syria to allow fact-finding and humanitarian missions after months of anti-government protests.

Mr Ban told the BBC he was very concerned about human rights violations in Syria.

Speaking after being re-elected as UN chief, he denied that divisions within the UN Security Council were hampering its response to Syria.

Hundreds of people have died as authorities try to quell unrest.

President Bashar al-Assad has called for a national dialogue but critics say his response is inadequate.

Following a televised speech by Mr Assad on Monday, state-run news agency Sana said he was offering a "general amnesty" for crimes committed before 20 June. However there were few details.

"I recognise and I welcome this announcement of a general amnesty, but this should lead to a genuine and meaningful and very constructive dialogue with the people," Mr Ban said.

"I am deeply concerned about what is going on in Syria and that is why I have been talking to President Assad and I have been speaking out through public messages," he said.

"I believe that first and foremost, it is President Assad of Syria and his government who should first take bold and decisive measures before it is too late."

Mass rallies

Activists said at least seven people died on Tuesday when security forces fired on anti-government demonstrators.

Following Mr Assad's speech, large crowds of his supporters converged on squares in several major cities including the capital Damascus, Deraa, Hama and Homs, state TV said.

Clashes broke out with anti-government protesters who activists say were then targeted by security forces.

The opposition estimates that more than 1,300 civilians have been killed along with more than 300 soldiers and police since March. Thousands more protesters have been detained, they say.

Pictures of President Assad during rally in Damascus
President Assad's supporters have tried steal the spotlight from anti-government protests

A recent government crackdown in the north of the country has led to thousands of Syrians fleeing into Turkey or camping out on the Syrian side of the border.

President Assad has called for them to return.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday that a team went on a government-organised visit of the town of Jisr al-Shughour which was at the centre of the government operation.

A UNHCR spokesman said most of Jisr al-Shughour was now deserted and its representatives heard accounts of murders, assassinations, torture and humiliation by the military.

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