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Syrian protesters taunt Assad: You're next

BEIRUT — Taking inspiration from the rapid unraveling of the regime in Libya, thousands of Syrians poured into the streets Monday and taunted President Bashar Assad with shouts that his family's 40-year dynasty will be the next dictatorship to crumble.

Assad, who has tried in vain to crush the 5-month-old revolt, appears increasingly out of touch as he refuses to acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of people demanding his ouster, analysts say. Instead, he blames the unrest on Islamic extremists and thugs.

But many observers say Assad should heed the lessons of Libya.

"Gadhafi is gone; now it's your turn, Bashar!" protesters shouted in several cities across the country hours after Assad dismissed calls to step down during an interview on state TV. Security forces opened fire in the central city of Homs, killing at least one person.

"Leaders should know that they will be able to remain in power as long as they remain sensitive to the demands of the people," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, according to Turkey's Anatolia news agency.

Turkey, a former close ally of Syria and an important trade partner, has grown increasingly frustrated with Damascus over its deadly crackdown. The violence has left Syria facing the most serious international isolation in decades, with widespread calls for Assad to step down.

Human rights groups say more than 2,000 people — most of them unarmed protesters — have been killed in the government's crackdown on the uprising.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., had a blunt message for Assad on Monday: You're next.

"He's going to meet the same fate as has happened to the others that have been run out," Nelson said during a St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. "First in Tunisia. Then in Egypt. It's now happening in Libya and it's going to happen in Syria."

Nelson, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he has met with Assad three times in the past 11 years, most recently about five years ago.

"We got into it pretty hot and heavy," he said, adding that it's tough for a "brutal dictator" to listen to his people.

Britain's Defense Secretary Liam Fox told BBC radio that Assad would "be thinking again in light of what has happened in Tripoli overnight."

"There is an unavoidable change in the area — and I think the message to those in that region is that if you do not allow change to be a process it can become an event," he said.

Syria presented a different case than other Arab nations swept by unrest this year.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland dismissed the idea of arming the Syrian rebels. "I don't think anybody thinks that more guns into Syria is going to be the right answer right now," she said. ''The Syrians themselves don't want that. So that's why our focus has been on political and economic pressure."

MORE KILLINGS: Eight people were killed Monday in Syria, according to activists. Six people were killed in the central city of Homs when security forces and pro-government thugs used force and live ammunition to disperse protesters, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. In the city of Hama, two people were shot by the thugs, known as Shabiha, who were celebrating an address by Assad on state television.

Times staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report, which includes information from McClatchy News Service.

Syrian protesters taunt Assad: You're next 08/22/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 22, 2011 11:06pm]
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