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Huge Crowds Protest In Syria's Hama As More Killed Nationwide


An image grab taken from footage uploaded to YouTube purports to show Syrian antigovernment protesters flooding the streets of Hama on July 1.
Activists say hundreds of thousands of Syrians protested today in the central city of Hama and other towns against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Hama has seen some of the biggest demonstrations against Assad and was also the site of a brutal crackdown by his father in 1982.

Syria, meanwhile, accused the United States of "interfering" in its affairs after the U.S. ambassador to the country traveled to Hama and met with protesters there.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry condemned the visit by Robert Ford as proof of U.S. "involvement" in Syria's affairs.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in turn that the United States is "dismayed" by Syria's criticism over Ford's visit to Hama, saying authorities had been informed in advance of the visit.

"The Syrian government has claimed many things," Nuland said. "It has claimed that there are foreign instigators behind what's going on in their country [and] it has claimed that there are gangs of young men instigating these things. That is not what [Ambassador Ford] witnessed. He witnessed average Syrians asking for change in their country. And he left early today so as to make clear that this was not about us. This is about the rights of the Syrian citizens."

French officials said today that France's ambassador, Eric Chevallier, also traveled to Hama on June 7.

Meanwhile, activists and witnesses said security forces shot dead at least 14 protesters in the capital, Damascus, in the city of Homs, and in Idlib province.

Activists say at least 1,400 protesters have been killed by security forces since March.

Syria has barred most independent media from operating inside the country, making it difficult to verify accounts from activists and authorities.

compiled from agency reports