China backs Assad before Syrian forces open fire at funeralBy
Beijing’s deputy foreign minister argues for ‘stability’ as regime continues to target protesters
China has expressed support for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as Syrian security forces continue to target pro-democracy protesters.
The endorsement of Assad by Chinese deputy foreign minister Zhai Jun on Saturday came shortly before Syrian troops opened fire on a funeral procession in Damascus.
Zhai, who met Syrian opposition and government representatives before backing Assad, said China was “deeply concerned by the escalating crisis” but added that “the Chinese experience shows a nation cannot develop without stability”.
The Chinese official said his government supported Syria’s plan for a referendum on constitutional reform next week. “China supports the path of reform taking place in Syria and the important steps that have been taken in this respect,” he said.
A few hours later, Syrian forces opened fire on the funeral of three men killed by security forces on Friday, killing at least one person.
“They started firing at the crowd right after the burial. People are running and trying to take cover in the alleyways,” a witness told Reuters by telephone.
The opposition Syrian Revolution Co-ordination Union said the gunfire near the cemetery had killed one mourner and wounded four, including a woman who was hit in the head.
Up to 30,000 demonstrators had taken to the streets in the capital’s Mezze district, near the headquarters of air force intelligence and that of the ruling Ba’ath party.
Footage of the funeral broadcast on the internet showed women ululating to honour the victims. Mourners shouted: “We sacrifice our blood, our soul for you martyrs. One, one, one, the Syrian people are one.”
YouTube footage from the Damascus suburb of Douma showed several thousand protesters at the funerals of two people said to have been killed there by security forces. The bodies were carried though crowds of mourners waving pre-Ba’ath Syrian flags.
The Chinese embassy said Zhai held separate meetings with moderate opposition figures Qadri Jamil, Louay Hussein and Hassan Abdulazim, but gave no details.
“We told the Chinese envoy that most of the opposition accept a dialogue if that dialogue is serious and responsible, meaning that the Syrian authorities would implement what is agreed. But the problem with dialogue is that the authorities have lost credibility,” Hussein told Reuters.
Fighting has continued across Syria during the envoy’s visit. In Homs, there was no let-up in the bombardment of the city by government forces. Rebels set fire to a fuel tank at a refinery in the city.
The state news agency, Sana, said that 10 members of the security forces were buried on Saturday. A soldier and a local councillor were killed by gunmen in Idlib and Aleppo, the agency said.
from Conal Urquhart