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12 deaths reported in Syria as government promises democracy

By the CNN Wire Staff
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Opposition group reports 12 deaths Wednesday in various Syrian cities
  • One man died under torture, an opposition group says
  • The Syrian government says 14 people were "martyred" by "armed terrorist groups"
  • U.N. Security Council members are circulating a draft resolution calling for sanctions

(CNN) -- Syrian security forces battled demonstrators Wednesday, killing a dozen more people, a Syrian opposition group said as the Syrian government vowed it was taking steps to achieve democracy.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCCS) reported eight people were killed in Homs, two in the Medan district of Damascus, one in Hama and one in Idlib.

A witness in Homs said Syrian forces fired randomly at protesters. "Tonight, they shut down the electricity and stormed the city, firing shots everywhere," he said.

CNN is unable to confirm reports from Syria independently because of limited access.

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Throughout the months-long unrest in Syria, the government has said it has been cracking down on "armed gangs" and "terrorists," not peaceful protesters. But witnesses, human rights groups, officials of numerous governments and a U.N. fact-finding mission have reported grave human rights abuses and widespread shootings of unarmed civilians.

The opposition London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from inside Syria, reported four people killed in Homs.

In Idlib province, a 28-year-old man who was arrested by security forces last week when they stormed the town of Khan Sheikhoun died under torture, the observatory said.

And in the city of Harasta, security forces carried out a series of raids and detentions to stop large demonstrations, arresting 37 people, the observatory said.

Syria's state-run news agency SANA reported that 14 Syrian citizens "were martyred in Homs at the hands of the armed terrorist groups who kidnapped, tortured and killed them and mutilated their bodies." The story, on SANA's website, included gruesome photos.

SANA also reported that "an armed terrorist group" attacked a bus in Hama on Monday, leaving a woman dead and some other passengers wounded.

President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree Tuesday on a local administration law, which has the primary goal of decentralizing authority and placing it "in the hands of the people to achieve democracy," SANA reported.

The Syrian opposition has called for widespread reforms and for al-Assad's ouster. The United States and several European nations have echoed that call.

Wednesday's developments came a day after opposition members meeting in Istanbul said dissidents have formed a national council to lead the opposition to al-Assad's regime.

The new council seems to be one of several opposition movements and parties claiming to represent the Syrian opposition inside and outside Syria.

The United States and its European allies on the U.N. Security Council began circulating a draft resolution Tuesday that calls for tough sanctions against al-Assad and other top Syrian officials.

"The resolution includes an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze on individuals and entities who are responsible for what is happening," British Deputy Ambassador Philip Parham told reporters. "But there are things they can do now. They can stop the killing and release detainees. And allow access."

CNN's Nada Husseini and Kamal Ghattas contributed to this report.

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