Thousands of Syrians march while military continues to attack

Khalid Ali,Kim Sengupta,Turkey
Saturday 18 June 2011 00:00 BST

Tens of thousands of Syrians took to the streets yesterday for a renewed push to unseat the government, uncowed by a military assault in the north-west and unconvinced by the latest moves by the regime to quell the uprising with gestures of reform.

At least 16 people were reported killed as fresh protests were met by machine-gun fire, while troops backed-up by tanks and helicopter gunships continued their assault – an operation that has sent up to 22,000 people fleeing from their homes.

The protests came despite an unexpected announcement by the tycoon cousin of President Bashar al-Assad that he would be relinquishing his business interests and donating some of his massive profits to charity. Rami Makhlouf, who controls Syria's main telecoms firm, is reviled by many in Syria for alleged corruption.

But the announcement did little to stem the tide of protest and security forces again responded with force.

The United States continued to push for a UN resolution yesterday, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, met with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, to try to forge an agreement between Security Council members. In a letter circulated yesterday, Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moualem, said he hoped the Council would not hastily adopt a resolution he says will help the "extremists and terrorists" he blames for the country's violence.

Syrian human rights groups say more than 1,400 civilians have been killed since the uprising began. In the north-west, there were stories of troops and members of the security services carrying out summary executions and torturing suspected activists. About 22,000 people have fled assaults on towns in the area, with 10,000 now in refugee camps in Turkey and another 12,000 living in squalor on the Syrian side of the border. Those who made it to the relative safety of Turkey were yesterday treated to a visit by the American actress, Angelina Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the UN.

Meanwhile, journalists and groups such as Amnesty International have been refused entry to the camps, with refugees not allowed to leave.

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