Wednesday 1 March 2017

Syria arrests iconic blogger and leading activists in crackdown

SECURITY forces today arrested blogger Razan Ghazzawi, an icon of the 11-month uprising in Syria, along with rights activist Mazen Darwish and 12 others.

Human rights lawyer Anwar Bunni said Ghazzawi was arrested in an early afternoon raid on the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, which is located in central Damascus and is headed by Darwish.



"We at the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies condemn these arrests and call on Syrian authorities to immediately release them," Bunni said in a statement.



Opposition figure Louai Hussein earlier told AFP that Darwish's wife was also among those arrested.



The crackdown came as UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for an end to the violence in Syria, both from the government and the opposition, while urging the international community to find a common response to the unrest.



"What is important at this time is that first the Syrian authorities must stop killing their own people," Ban told journalists on a visit to Vienna, when asked about Syria's intention to hold a referendum on a new constitution



"And this violence should stop from all sides whether by national security forces or by opposition forces," he went on.



Ahead of a vote in the UN General Assembly expected later on Thursday on a draft resolution calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop deadly attacks on civilians, Ban also called for unity.



"I urge the international community to speak in one voice: stop the violence. Stop the bloodshed," he said.



"The longer we debate, the more people will die."



Russia, one of Assad's last major friends, vetoed along with China earlier this month a UN Security Council resolution condemning the violence in Syria. It also reportedly opposes the General Assembly resolution, which cannot be vetoed but carries less weight.



"It was a regrettable thing that the Security Council was not able to take the draft resolution taking coherent, and in one voice, one action but now this is behind us," Ban said on Thursday.



The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said earlier this week that "crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed" in Syria since the crackdown began last year.



According to the UN, more than 5,400 people have been killed, while thousands are missing and tens of thousands more have fled the country.



"The lack of agreement in the Security Council does not give the government licence to continue this assault on its own people," Ban said Thursday.



The UN chief was in Vienna for a meeting on drug trafficking in Afghanistan, attended by the Russian and French foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov and Alain Juppe, and also met with Austrian President Heinz Fischer and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger.



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