BEIRUT, (AP) – Syria’s president said the country’s security forces have made mistakes during the uprising against his regime, blaming poorly trained police officers at least in part for a crackdown that has killed more than 850 people over the past two months.
President Bashar Assad’s comments, carried Wednesday in the private Al-Watan newspaper, marked a rare acknowledgment of shortcomings within Syria’s powerful security agencies. Assad said thousands of police officers were receiving new training.
But there was no sign the crackdown was letting up. On Wednesday, a human rights activist said Syrian troops have used machine-guns in an attack on a neighborhood in the central city of Homs.
Also Wednesday, the opposition’s calls for a general strike to protest the regime appeared to go unheeded. Schools, shops and other businesses were open in the capital, Damascus, and other Syrian cities amid a tight security presence.
The call for a strike marked a shift by opposition forces to hit at Assad’s regime from new angles: its economic underpinnings and ability to keep the country running during two months of widening battles.
But the fact that it apparently fell flat Wednesday suggests that Assad still has support in the business community and that a sweeping campaign of intimidation was working.
“Everything is open,” said a resident of the central city of Homs, which has seen daily anti-government protests in the past weeks. He said residents would not dare comply with the strike in light of the heavy security presence in the city.
Syria’s top rights organization has said that the crackdown by Assad has killed more than 850 people since the protests erupted in mid-March.
The latest place seeing a harsh crackdown on dissent is the western town of Talkalakh. Activists say 27 people have been killed there since last week.
Syrians pouring over the Lebanon border in recent days have described horrific scenes of execution-style slayings and bodies in the streets in the western town of Talkalakh, which has been reportedly encircled by security forces.