(Updates with latest protests in fifth paragraph, Jisr al- Shughour violence in ninth.)
June 17 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were deployed to the northwestern town of Ma’arrat an Nu’man, sending residents fleeing to nearby Turkey and east into the countryside to escape a feared crackdown on dissent.
State television reported today that the army is stationed around Ma’arrat an Nu’man “to prevent terrorists” from cutting off the highway that links the capital, Damascus, to Syria’s second-largest city, Aleppo.
The flight of townspeople began two days ago after reports that regime forces, backed by tanks, were being sent to widen a campaign against anti-government protesters in the region, according to human-rights activists. Last week, the army swept through the town of Jisr al-Shughour, also in the north.
Protests against Assad’s rule began in mid-March, part of a wave of demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa this year that have unseated the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. A total of 1,289 civilians and 332 security forces have been killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on June 12.
Demonstrations were held today in Damascus, Hama, Daraa, Al Qamishli and Al Bukamal, Al Jazeera reported. Heavy fire was heard in Homs, according to Al Arabiya.
Ban, Assad Talk
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday the attacks on protesters are “totally unacceptable” and called on Assad to “stop killing people.”
“I have discussed and talked to President Assad several times,” Ban told reporters in Brasilia. “I have strongly urged him to listen to the wishes and aspirations of the people. I again strongly urge President Assad and his authorities to stop killing people, and to engage in inclusive dialogue and to take decisive and bold measures before it is too late.”
Another 789 people crossed into Turkey from Jisr al- Shughour yesterday, bringing the total number of refugees in the southeastern province of Hatay to 9,693, according to the Turkish state-run Anatolia news agency. The influx began June 8.
Syrians returning to Jisr Al-Shughour are being arrested and some have been raped, Al Jazeera television reported today, citing witnesses.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking after a four-hour meeting with Syrian envoy Hassan Ali Turkmani in Ankara, reiterated Turkey’s promise to keep its borders open.
The Syrian military said its forces were attacked by armed rebels in Jisr al-Shughour, while opposition supporters and local residents have said those who died there were executed after refusing to fire on pro-democracy protesters.
--With assistance from Matthew Bristow in Brasilia, Nadeem Hamid in Washington and Emre Peker in Ankara. Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Eddie Buckle, Heather Langan, Karl Maier
To contact the reporters on this story: Zainab Fattah in Dubai at firstname.lastname@example.org; Caroline Alexander in London at email@example.com.
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