France warns Syria over harassing opponents
PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) - France said Tuesday it would not tolerate Syria intimidating opposition activists on French soil and would beef up its police presence at future opposition rallies.
Syrian diplomats in foreign capitals are mounting campaigns of harassment and threats against expatriate dissidents protesting outside Syrian embassies, rights group Amnesty International said.
Opponents of President Bashar al-Assad are holding regular protests in Paris and Britain to demand an end to the Assad regime.
Amnesty said it had documented cases of more than 30 activists in eight countries -- Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Britain and the United States -- who had faced some form of direct intimidation.
"We will not accept that a foreign state organizes violence or intimidates on our territory," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters. He said Paris had relayed the message to the Syrian ambassador.
One protest in Paris held at the end of August turned violent when it was gatecrashed by pro-regime supporters.
Syrian protesters in Britain said they were being intimidated by Syrian officials, prompting the Foreign Office to contact the Syrian ambassador in London and voice concern.
"The Syrian embassy called me in June and warned me because I was protesting. They said: 'We can get you and your family'," said 43-year-old Ghaias AlJundi, who joined a small protest outside the Syrian embassy in London Tuesday.
"'We know you are in England but we can get you here. Do not think you are out of our reach,' they told me," AlJundi said.
Protesters held banners calling for the downfall of the Syrian president and demanding freedom for Syrians in their home country.
"They want to put pressure on Syrians abroad to deter them from demonstrating. So many people stopped coming because of the threats," said Ahmed Hamza, another protester.
"We do not fear the regime. Protesting is a right."
Hamza said there had been men dressed in civilian clothes taking photographs of protesters during a march in August. "We could see they were videotaping us from the window of the embassy," 18-year-old Razan Saffour said.
The Foreign Office said the Syrian ambassador "gave his assurances that embassy staff were not involved."
French police are still investigating the incident that turned violent at the August protest and none of those arrested had diplomatic passports, Valero said.
"Since the August 26 incident, the police have decided to add extra officers to protect Syrian protesters," Valero said.
France has been one of the strongest voices pushing for a United Nations resolution to threaten Syria with sanctions if it does not stop its deadly crackdown.
British police said they were also investigating an allegation of harassment in August. A protest will be held in London on October 20, protesters said.
The U.N. estimates that 2,700 civilians have been killed since the crackdown in Syria started six months ago.
(Reporting By John Irish in Paris and Marwa Awad in London; Editing by Marwa Awad and Robert Woodward)