Syrian protesters urge general strike


Syrian anti-government protesters called for a general strike after security forces opened fire on demonstrators in several cities during the past two days, killing more than 40 people.

The demand for businesses to close shops and offices today was made by groups that are leading protests, including the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union, which called for a strike on its Facebook page.

The Syrian National Council, an umbrella movement uniting several opposition groups, supports the call, Al Arabiya television reported.

The US the European Union and the Arab League are increasing economic and political pressure on president Bashar al-Assad to end violence that risks tipping Syria into a civil war as soldiers defect and take up arms against the government.

The state-run Sana news agency said "foreign entities" were sending text messages to Syrians in an effort to encourage the work stoppage.

Videos posted on opposition groups' Facebook pages today showed empty streets and closed shops in Damascus and other cities. Bloomberg was unable to confirm the
authenticity or date of the videos. Syria bans foreign media from reporting freely in the country.

Syrian security forces used loudspeakers on mosque minarets to warn the residents and shop owners to end the strike in the province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Security forces opened fire at protesters demanding Dr Assad's ouster, killing at least 43 people since Friday Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory, said in a statement from London.

Heavy clashes between the Syrian army and defectors in the southern province of Daraa were reported by the Observatory, which said three army tanks were burnt.

Security forces killed 14 people today, Al Jazeera television said without specifying where.

Arab League foreign ministers will meet in Cairo this week to discuss Syria, Egypt's official Middle East News Agency reported yesterday, citing an unidentified league
official. The report didn't specify a date.

The United Nations estimated on December1st that more than 4,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Dr Assad began in March, inspired by movements that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Tens of thousands have been arrested and more than 14,000 are reported to be in detention, the UN said.

Syrian officials have accused western countries of paying armed thugs to instigate violence with a view to fueling sectarian conflict and destabilising the government.

Dr Assad denied in an interview last week that he gave the orders for a crackdown on protests that started nine months ago.