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19 Killed As Syrian Forces Fire on Protesters

Image taken from video footage uploaded on YouTube shows a Syrian army tank deployed in a main street in the Khalidiya area of the protest hub of Homs, 160 kilometers north of Damascus, on August 17, 2011.

At least 19 people have been killed in Syria as security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators. The deaths occurred on Friday, a day after Western powers called for President Bashar al-Assad's resignation because of his deadly crackdown on dissent.

Rights groups say most of the deaths Friday took place in the southern Dara' region. However, they say Syrian forces also shot and killed protesters in areas that include a Damascus suburb and the central Homs region.

Thousands of protesters massed in the streets across the country Friday with renewed calls for Assad's departure.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition groups say they are close to forming a coalition, a move designed to strengthen their efforts against the Assad government.

New Sanctions

International pressure against Assad mounted on Thursday when the United States, the European Union and several other Western powers, said for the first time the Syrian leader had to go. Also, the U.S. announced new sanctions against the Assad government.

On Friday, the EU said it is considering widening its sanctions on Syria, to possibly include an oil embargo.

In New York Thursday, the U.S. and four European members of the United Nations Security Council said they would begin drafting a U.N. sanctions resolution against Syria.

In a separate development, the U.N. announced plans to send a team to Syria this week to assess the country's humanitarian situation. The U.N.'s human rights office said Thursday that Assad's forces had carried out widespread and systematic attacks on civilians that "may amount to crimes against humanity."

U.N. Human rights chief Navi Pillay told the Security Council it should refer the situation in Syria to the Hague-based International Criminal Court.

But Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, accused Washington and some other Security Council members of waging what he called a "diplomatic and humanitarian war" against his country.

Assad has not publicly reacted to the calls for his departure. But the state-run SANA news agency noted on Friday that Russia has said that it does not support Western calls for the president's resignation.

Turkey also says it believes it is too soon to call for Mr. Assad to step down.

The U.S. estimates the Assad government is responsible for more than 2,000 deaths since protests against his rule began in March.

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

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