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Clinton warns Syria's Assad that time is running out

Speaking at a democracy conference in Lithuania, Clinton said that the US – which has long sought to engage Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – is looking for 'actions, not words.'

By Staff writer / July 1, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the opening of the Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies in the Exhibition center in Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, July 1. Clinton is in Lithuania to attend an international democracy conference and commented Friday about reports on Syria, saying Assad's government is running out of time, that it must advance to a serious political process or face increased resistance.

Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned the Syrian government Friday that it was running out of time to implement reforms and that without action, it would only face further resistance.

"It is absolutely clear that the Syrian government is running out of time. They are either going to allow a serious political process that will include peaceful protests to take place throughout Syria and engage in a productive dialogue with members of the opposition and civil society, or they're going to continue to see increasingly organized resistance," Secretary Clinton said at a news conference in Lithuania, Reuters reports.

Clinton is there for a conference with international democracy organization Communities for Democracy.

"We regret the loss of life and we regret the violence, but this choice is up to the Syrian government. And, right now, we're looking for action not words and we haven't seen enough of that," she said.

Allowing the opposition to meet once – they held a conference in Damascus earlier this week – is an inadequate response to protesters' demands, she said, particularly since it happened as government troops continued their crackdown in northern Syria. "It doesn't appear that there's a coherent and consistent message coming from Syria," she said.

Human rights groups say that the death toll since protests first erupted in March numbers about 1,500, according to Reuters. Opposition groups have rejected a government offer to meet in Damascus later this month, saying that the proposed talks lack credibility when violence continues elsewhere in the country, The Telegraph reports.

A two-day siege in northern Syria that ended Thursday left 19 people dead while troops spread throughout the border region, the Associated Press reports. The troops are in the area to prevent more Syrians from fleeing to Turkey. More than 10,000 have fled so far, but only five made it across on Thursday – the lowest number in many days, according to Turkish officials.

Meanwhile, protests have started in the northwestern city of Aleppo, with several hundred demonstrators and at least two separate protests, AP reports.

The demonstration appeared far smaller than those that take place in other Syrian cities, but its importance lies in Aleppo's status as the country's second largest city, where much of Syria's small middle class lives.

Activists said the regime feared that if Aleppo's residents threw their weight behind the anti-government protests, they could badly shake Assad's regime.

The Guardian reported Thursday that the US is discreetly pushing a "roadmap" for reforms that leaves President Bashar al-Assad in power. The draft document was reportedly circulated at the opposition conference this week. The US denies backing the document. A State Department spokesman said: "We are encouraging genuine dialogue between the opposition and the regime but we are not promoting anything. We want to see a democratic Syria but this is in the hands of the Syrian people."

The roadmap demands accountability for violently disbursing protests, compensation for families of those killed, legalization of protests, media freedom, and the establishment of a national assembly, among other changes.

Because the document keeps President Assad in power, it is being rejected by many members of the opposition.

Quiet US interest in the roadmap dovetails with public demands from Washington that Assad reform or step down. Robert Ford, the US ambassador, has been urging opposition figures to talk to the regime, said Radwan Ziadeh, a leading exile, who insisted the strategy would not work. "They are asking Bashar to lead the transition and this is not acceptable to the protesters," he said. "It is too late."

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