Syria's Assad to Give TV Interview on Sunday

Embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad is to address the nation in a television interview, as his forces continued to kill anti-regime protesters Saturday despite demands from world powers for him to put an end to the repression.

Assad will give an interview on Syrian television on Sunday "about the situation in Syria, the continuing process of reforms, the repercussions of American and Western political and economic pressures and a vision of the future for Syria in the current regional and international context," state news agency SANA said.

This will be the first time Assad has appeared on television since June 20, and the fourth since pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in March and turned into calls for his departure after he cracked down on them violently.

Earlier, tanks rumbled into the central city of Homs, the day after 34 anti-regime protesters were killed, activists said, adding urgency to a U.N. humanitarian mission expected this weekend.

The death toll rose again Saturday when two more people were killed in Rastan, a town between Homs and Hama, as security forces opened fire to disperse a demonstration, an activist said.

Meanwhile, opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad opened two days of talks in Istanbul to launch a "national council" to coordinate the fight against his regime, organizers said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier put the death toll from Friday's crackdown on anti-regime protests at 34, with most of the victims falling in the Homs area where tanks took positions Saturday.

Security forces were also conducting arrests in the city of Latakia early Saturday, the Observatory said, adding that many of those picked up were minors.

In Rastan "two people were killed and several wounded" when security forces opened fire to break up a protest march, an activist said.

One person was also wounded in the al-Herak district of southern Daraa province where relatives and parents staged a protest outside a hospital demanding the bodies of their loved ones, the Observatory said.

And human rights activist Malak Mahmud Sayed was arrested in Aleppo in the north when she was applying for a passport and taken to military security, several rights groups said.

Friday's rallies put to the test assurances by Assad to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon the previous day that his security forces had ended operations against civilians.

On Friday the Observatory reported that 20,000 people had marched in al-Khalidiyeh alone on a day of protest demanding the fall of Assad's autocratic regime, with protests in other parts of the country.

The protests came as the United Nations said it was dispatching a humanitarian mission to Syria this weekend after a damning report to the Security Council on Thursday on Assad's "apparent shoot to kill" policy.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the Security Council there was "reliable corroborative evidence" that Syrian forces are deliberately shooting anti-regime demonstrators.

Pillay also said in an interview with France 24 television that her agency had drawn up a list of 50 Syrians in senior positions that she said were responsible for violent repression.

Another U.N. official, Undersecretary General B. Lynn Pascoe, told the council that the death toll from the security force crackdown on the protests has now passed the 2,000 mark.

On Thursday, Russia and Turkey dismissed growing calls led by U.S. President Barack Obama for Assad to quit, offering the Syrian leader rare support.

However, longtime ally Russia and regional powerhouse and Syrian neighbor Turkey dismissed the calls for Assad to go.

And a day after the so-called Syrian Revolution General Commission announced the creation of a coalition of 44 "revolutionary blocs", vowing to bring down the regime, dissidents also met in Turkey to discuss ousting Assad.

"The Syrian National Council will have between 115 and 150 members, more than half of whom are in Syria, with the reminder in exile," dissident Obeida al-Nahhas told Agence France Presse.

Source: Agence France Presse

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