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West Urges Syria's Assad to Step Down


In this photo taken by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad addresses a meeting for the central committee of the Baath party in Damascus, Syria, August 17, 2011

In this photo taken by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad addresses a meeting for the central committee of the Baath party in Damascus, Syria, August 17, 2011

The United States, European Union and other world powers are calling for the resignation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because of his deadly crackdown on political protesters.

U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement Thursday saying the time had come for Assad to "step aside." He also issued an executive order announcing "unprecedented sanctions" on Syria, in a bid to deepen the economic isolation of Assad's government.

Separately, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the transition to democracy had begun in Syria and that it was time for Assad to "get out of the way."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton echoed the call and said Assad had completely lost legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people. Britain, France, Germany and Canada also urged Mr. Assad to step down.

There was no immediate reaction from the Syrian leader. However, state-controlled news reports say Assad told members of the ruling Baath party on Wednesday that Syrian reforms would not be a result of "foreign pressure."

The public calls for Assad's resignation come on the same day that the U.N. Security Council is to hear a report on the Syrian government's tactics. U.N. human rights investigators say the crackdown on dissent may amount to "crimes against humanity."

The findings are in a 22-page report that was released by the office of U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, ahead of her briefing to the Security Council later Thursday. Pillay is expected to call for the Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for alleged human rights violations.

The report cites "widespread" attacks against civilians that include the use of snipers, air power and other military measures.

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Assad that he was alarmed at reports of excessive use of force by government security forces and continued widespread violations of human rights.

Ban spoke by telephone with Assad, who said military and police operations had stopped.

Activists said Syrian security forces detained hundreds of people Wednesday in the besieged port city of Latakia, where at least 35 people have been killed during the past week.

A London-based Syrian rights group said more than 700 troops raided homes in Latakia's southern al-Raml district, arresting people on lists.

Activists also said forces loyal to Assad killed nine people in the central city of Homs, including two protesters shot to death in front of a mosque after nightly Ramadan prayers.

Latakia's al-Raml area is home to a crowded Palestinian refugee camp where many low-income Syrians also live. U.N. officials say as many as 10,000 residents fled the neighborhood during the government's four-day operation to crush dissent in the city.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said Wednesday it has determined the whereabouts of about 2,000 of the displaced people and is providing them with aid.

Rights groups and activists say at least 1,800 civilians have been killed since the start of the government's crackdown in mid-March.

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

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