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UN Official Accuses Syria of Bludgeoning Its People


United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay (2011 file photo)

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay (2011 file photo)

The top U.N. human rights official is accusing Syria of trying to "bludgeon its population into submission" with its crackdown on anti-government protesters.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said Thursday that it is "utterly deplorable" for any government to deploy tanks, artillery and snipers against its people. She urged Syria to "halt this assault" against Syrians' "most fundamental human rights."

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict met with Syria's new ambassador to the Vatican, Hussan Edin Aala, telling him that Syria should respect the "dignity" of its people.

The comments came as another thousand Syrians fled to safety in Turkey, which has vowed to keep its doors open for those seeking refuge from the violence in their homeland.

The Turkish government said the Syrians crossed the border overnight into the early hours Thursday, boosting the number of refugees to 1,600. They are looking to escape Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's weeks-long crackdown against anti-government protesters. Some refugees say that black-clad gunmen have opened fire against protesters without warning.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a long-time ally of Assad, but he says Turkey will not "close its doors" to Syrians fleeing to Turkey. On Wednesday, he called on the Syrian government to be "more tolerant" of its citizens who are protesting.

Some of the Syrians who entered Turkey fled from the town of Jisr al-Shughour, 20 kilometers from the border, and nearby villages. For the moment, the Syrians are staying in tents set up by the Red Crescent in the southern Hatay province. Other Syrians have stayed behind, but pitched tents near the border.

European members of the U.N. Security Council presented a revised resolution condemning Syria for its violent crackdown. Britain, France, Germany and Portugal introduced the new text Wednesday at a closed Security Council meeting in New York. U.N. diplomats said the draft, strongly backed by the United States, is aimed at winning more support for the proposal in the council.

But Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, repeated that Moscow would not support the resolution on the grounds that it would not promote dialogue or help put an end to the violence.

Earlier efforts in the council to respond to the Syrian protests failed to win consensus and were abandoned.

The draft resolution demands an immediate end to the violence and humanitarian access into Syria. It also calls for the Syrian government to initiate steps toward genuine political reform. Diplomats said there could be a vote by the end of the week.

Rights groups say at least 1,100 people have been killed in the Syrian crackdown against the anti-government campaign that began in March. More than 10,000 people have been arrested.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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