Obama leads growing calls for Assad to stand down
Syrian regime increasingly isolated
PRESIDENT Barack Obama led a chorus of Western powers yesterday in demanding that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria should stand down, ending weeks of prevarication and preparing the way for the regime's diplomatic isolation.
Mr Obama accused Assad of "ferocious brutality" and announced new sanctions on the regime, including a ban on all business dealings by American citizens and a freeze on Syrian government assets.
"We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led," said Mr Obama. "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for him to step aside."
In an action that was clearly co-ordinated, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany issued a simultaneous statement saying Assad should step down. A European Union statement made the same demand and said additional sanctions were being prepared.
The United Nations high commissioner for human rights also called on the UN Security Council to consider proceedings against Assad at the International Criminal Court, as it has already done with Col Gaddafi.
However, there is no sign that Assad has any intention of bowing to international pressure. He has ruled Syria since the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.
Furthermore, the reluctance of the major powers until now to call for his departure has bolstered those of his Arab neighbours who believe that however unpalatable his actions, his rule is a bulwark against instability. Assad also has the backing of his closest ally, Iran.
Assad tried to pre-empt yesterday's events with a telephone call to Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, on Wednesday night, in which he said that "policing operations" had stopped -- although that was at the end of a day in which activists claimed at least 10 more people had been killed.
While there were fewer reports of violence yesterday, activists are planning more protests today. (© Daily Telegraph, London)