83 killed in Syria, Red Cross talks reach no agreement

83 killed in Syria, Red Cross talks reach no agreement

Syrian government forces reportedly killed at least 83 people Saturday in a sustained clampdown on rebel areas on the eve of a referendum across the country on a new constitution, DPA reported.

The surge in violence came as the Syrian government was preparing to hold a vote called by President Bashar al-Assad for Sunday on a new constitution.

Witnesses in the Damascus told dpa that women in white T-shirts were stopping cars and handing out leaflets reading: "Your vote is essential for Syria's sovereignty."

The proposed constitution promises to establish political pluralism, ending decades of monopoly by the ruling Baath Party.

According to the Interior Ministry, 14,000 polling stations have been set up across Syria for an estimated 14.6 million eligible voters.

The opposition called on Syrians to boycott the referendum, calling it "a mockery."

At least 30 people were killed in the restive districts of Baba Amr, al-Khalidiyeh and Karem al-Zeitoun in the central province of Homs, where government troops continued shelling attacks for the fourth successive week, Omar Homsi, a Syrian activist in the area, told dpa.

The death toll in the central province of Hama rose to 40 by nightfall, due to shelling by government forces on the villages of Maarazaf and al-Majdel, opposition activists told dpa.

Earlier, security forces shot dead six people in clashes with army defectors in the area of Ezaz in the province of Aleppo, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Seven others were killed Saturday in Aleppo when security forces fired on mourners in a funeral procession, the opposition Local Coordination reported. The funeral was for a man killed by police Friday in an anti-government mass protest.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Red Crescent failed Saturday to evacuate more wounded civilians from the besieged area of Baba Amr.

ICRC spokesman Hisham Hassan said negotiations with the Syrian authorities and the opposition "gave no concrete results."

Earlier, the ICRC's Damascus spokesman Saleh Dabbikeh told dpa: "We are exerting every effort ... to evacuate those in need of immediate assistance including two Western journalists."

"We managed on Friday to evacuate seven injured people and took them to the private al-Amin Hospital in Homs. We also evacuated 20 sick women and children, who needed hospital care," he said.

The wounded journalists are French national Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro and British photographer Paul Conroy of The Sunday Times, who were wounded in the shelling earlier this week on Baba Amr.

The bodies of American Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, who were killed in the same attack, are still in the restive area of Baba Amr

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