Syrian activists call general strike in new tactic

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Beirut, May 18: Syrian protesters have called for an one-day nationwide general strike, urging students to skip school and workers to bring commerce to a halt in a new strategy of defiance against government crackdowns that appear to be turning more brutal and bloody.

The strike, planned for Wednesday, May 18, marks a shift by opposition forces to strike at President Bashar Assad's regime from new angles- its economic underpinnings and ability to keep the country running during two months of widening battles.

A sweeping popular acceptance of the strike call would be an embarrassing blow to Assad and show support for the uprising in places, such as central Damascus, where significant protests have yet to take hold and security forces have choked off the few that have taken place.

"It will be a day of punishment for the regime from the free revolutionaries . Massive protests, no schools, no universities, no stores or restaurants and even no taxis, nothing," said a statement posted on the main Facebook page of the Syrian Revolution 2011.

The strike call came as the United States and European Union planned new sanctions against the Syrian leadership. In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told the reporters that the tighter measures could be imposed in the coming days.

Meanwhile, watchdog groups and Syrians fleeing into neighbouring Lebanon added to the accounts of violence.

A Syrian rights activist, Mustafa Osso, said government agents chased and beat students taking part in a protest against Assad's regime at a university in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest largest city. Security officials in Lebanon said at least 170 people entered the country on Tuesday, May, 17,  including a 2-year-old girl with a shrapnel wound in her chest.

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.

Osso, head of the Kurdish Organization for the Defense of Human Rights and Public Freedoms in Syria, said that there were reports of gunfire in Talkalakh Tuesday, May 17,  but it was not clear whether there were injuries.

At least 16 people, eight of them members of the same family, have been killed in recent days in Talkalakh, a town of about 70,000 residents, witnesses and activists said.

Syria's official news agency said eight soldiers and policemen were killed yesterday and five others were wounded while pursuing fugitives in Talkalakh and nearby areas. The report said security forces arrested several fugitives and confiscated a large amount of weapons.

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