INTERNATIONAL. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday strongly condemned "ongoing violence" by the Syrian government against demonstrators, saying Damascus needed to launch a "serious political process" to end deadly unrest.
Clinton said the United States was particularly concerned about conditions in Homs, where at least 10 people were reported killed in clashes on Tuesday after 20,000 people staged an overnight sit-in protest demanding embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ouster.
The government "must cease the violence and begin a serious political process," Clinton said. "We strongly condemn the ongoing violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government."
Assad was to issue a decree lifting emergency rule on Wednesday, a daily close to his regime reported, but rights groups have dismissed the measure as falling short of much-needed reforms.
The news that he would bypass parliament to fast-track the move was reported in Al-Watan newspaper a day after his cabinet approved a bill to rescind almost 50 years of a state of emergency.
Repeal of the emergency law has been a central demand of reformists since protests broke out on March 15.
The emergency law restricts many civil liberties, including public gatherings and freedom of movement, and allows the "arrest of anyone suspected of posing a threat to security."
Around 220 people have been killed by security forces or plainclothes police since the start of the protest movement, according to the rights watchdog Amnesty International, which said the crackdown has cost 26 lives in recent days.
Clinton noted the difficulty in independently confirming the accounts, and said the regime must allow "free access by media" investigating the violence.
The comments come two days after reports that Washington has been secretly financing Syrian opposition groups, including a satellite TV channel beaming anti-regime programming into the country.
The Washington Post, citing classified US diplomatic cables, said the State Department has since 2006 funneled as much as US$6 million to the Syrian opposition group Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles.
In line with the practice of President Barack Obama's administration when confronted with diplomatic cables publicized by the WikiLeaks website, the State Department refused to confirm any specific information cited in the Post report.