UN faces call for sanctions against Syria as protesters taunt Assad


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A European and US draft resolution will call for UN Security Council sanctions against the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and several of his officials, it was revealed last night.

The move comes as thousands of Syrians, emboldened by the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya, poured into the streets yesterday and taunted President Assad with shouts that his family's 40-year dynasty will be the next dictatorship to crumble.

"Gaddafi is gone; now it's your turn, Bashar!" protesters shouted in several cities across the country hours after President Assad dismissed calls to step down during an interview on state TV.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, diplomats told Reuters that the resolution's drafters – the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal – named several Syrian firms that they hoped to blacklist, and called for Syria's clampdown on protests to be referred to the permanent war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Last week the UN's human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said the Syrian government may have been guilty of war crimes. Diplomats said the draft resolution would call for an ICC referral.

There has been speculation that the resolution could include an arms embargo, but this is likely to be vetoed by Russia, a long-standing arms supplier for Damascus.

The five Western powers hoped to circulate a draft to the other 10 council members. Once it reaches the full 15-nation council, there will be further negotiations and the text will likely be revised.

The Syrian leader has ignored a demand by the Security Council to end the use of military force against civilian protesters. Syrian forces shot dead three people in the city of Homs during a visit by a UN humanitarian team yesterday, activists said. "Simply, without any introductions, they started shooting at them," one witness said.

Hundreds of protesters in the city, which has been a centre for demonstrations against Mr Assad, surrounded a UN car in a central square, holding up SOS signs and calling for the overthrow of the regime, according to local residents.

The UN has said the civilian death toll from the crackdown on anti-government protests has reached 2,200 since March.

The state news agency reported yesterday that Mr Assad had formed a committee to pave the way for the formation of political groups other than his Baath party, which has held a monopoly in Syria for decades. But opposition groups quickly rejected Mr Assad's remarks, saying they have lost confidence in his promises of reform while his forces open fire on peaceful protesters.