Kerry presses Damascus on violence

WASHINGTON, April 15 (UPI) — Syrian President Bashar Assad needs to address the aspirations of the people rather than respond to their appeals with force, U.S. Sen. John Kerry said.

Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, called on the Syrian president to “insist” the police and military refrain from using violence against demonstrators.

Reports out of Syria vary. The official Syrian Arab News Agency has blamed foreigners and internal terrorist cells for the deaths of protesters in the southern city of Daraa. The international community, however, blames government forces for using lethal action against demonstrators.

Assad announced Thursday Adel Safar, the former agricultural minister, was leading a new government as prime minister after the entire Cabinet was sacked last week. Assad has made modest reforms since unrest gripped the country recently, announcing he formed a committee to end a 48-year-old state of emergency.

Kerry said he was particularly upset by the reports of violence in Syria given that Assad assured him personally Damascus was eager to move out of isolation.

“None of that will ever be possible unless President Assad’s government immediately ceases using violence against its own people and instead acts to address their concerns,” he said in a statement.

The BBC reported Friday thousands of protesters were met with tear gas and rubber bullets as they marched on Damascus.

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