March 24, 2011 / 2:42 PM / 9 years ago

Germany urges Syria to halt violence, launch talks

BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) - Germany joined a growing number of western nations urging Syria Thursday to prevent violence against protesters after Syrian forces killed up to 37 people a day earlier.

“The violence must end immediately. The Syrian government must make sure that basic human and civil rights, as well as the rule of law, is observed,” Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement.

“The upheaval in the Arab world shows that stability does not come from violence, but only through dialogue and reforms.”

Dozens of civilians have been killed by Syrian forces in six days of demonstrations for political freedom and an end to corruption, in a protest movement spreading across the Arab world since a popular uprising in Tunisia late last year.

Wednesday, security forces opened fire on hundreds of youths in the southern city of Deraa, witnesses said, killing up to 37 demonstrators according to a hospital official.

France, Syria’s former colonial ruler which has sought to improve its relations with the country since 2008, has repeatedly condemned what it calls excessive force being used there, and Thursday called for dialogue and change.

“We urge Syria to listen to the voice of dialogue and of democracy,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters. Paris has also called for an investigation into civilian deaths and the release of detained protesters.

“A great change is under way. For a long time, France’s Arab policy aimed for stability. Today, Arab policy is to listen to the aspirations of the people and that applies to Syria, which must take on board this widespread movement.”

The United Nations and United States also condemned the violence. Britain called on Syria to respect people’s right to peaceful protest and to take action on their grievances.

President Bashar al-Assad has dismissed demands for reform in Syria, a country of 20 million people run by the Baath Party since a 1963 coup.

Reporting by Brian Rohan, John Irish, Catherine Bremer; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton

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