EU's Ashton calls on Syria to end violence, implement reforms "now"
The European Union's top foreign policy official called Saturday on Syrian authorities to immediately implement "meaningful" reforms ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers that will discuss the country's crackdown on anti-government protesters, dpa reported.
"I strongly condemn the continuing violence and deaths in Syria in the context of protests calling for freedom and democracy," Ashton said in a statement. "I urge in the strongest terms the Syrian authorities to immediately put an end to the violence."
"Meaningful political reforms guaranteeing freedom of expression, fundamental rights and the rule of law must begin now," she added.
Ashton's comments came a day after Syrian activists reported 27 people killed in widespread demonstrations. She said Syrians should be able to "express their grievances without fear of intimidation, repression and arrest."
The Syrian Interior Ministry, however, on Saturday accused saboteurs supported by "foreign parties" of firing on the demonstrators and inciting strife in the country.
The protesters have been calling, among other things, for President Bashar al-Assad's resignation.
In a bid to placate them, al-Assad this month sacked his cabinet and several regional governors, promising higher salaries, the release of political prisoners and the creation of a committee to begin looking into repealing a controversial emergency law.
Ashton said Saturday that the announcement of reforms must "be backed by credible action on the ground."
Syria is expected to be high on the agenda of foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday. A Brussels diplomat said this week that the response from Damascus is widely considered inadequate.
"They are hunkered down, doing nothing substantive," the diplomat, who asked not to be named, said. "We want to see more."