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Mass anti-government protests break out across Syria

Anti-government protesters are staging further demonstrations following Friday prayers even as the regime vows to continue its violent crackdown. Hundreds of Syrians are said to have fled the unrest into Lebanon.

Syrian flag

The brutal crackdown on anti-regime protesters is continuing

Unfazed by the ongoing violent crackdown by Syrian security forces, protesters have taken to the streets in towns across Syria in their thousands chanting anti-regime slogans following traditional Friday prayers.

Activists and medical sources said at least 15 people had been shot dead by security forces in the southern city of Daraa, which has been a flashpoint of the unrest.

Syria's state-run television, meanwhile, reported that four soldiers had been killed and two captured in a "terrorist" attack on their post in Daraa.

As the violent crackdown continued, there appeared to be the first signs of growing unease and dissent within the Syrian military with reports that officers were breaking ranks and refusing to fire on protesters. At the same time, more than 200 members of President Bashar al-Assad's ruling Baath Party were said to have resigned in protest at the violence used against the protesters.

Rights groups say at least 500 people have been killed by security forces since the unrest began last month.

There were also reports on Thursday that hundreds of civilians had fled on foot into northern Lebanon after violence broke out in the Syrian border town of Tall Kalakh. Most of those fleeing were said to be women and children.

Western woes

Following an unsuccessful European bid at the UN Security Council on Wednesday to muster international condemnation of Syria's actions, a similar move before the UN's Human Rights Council on Friday in Geneva again ran into strong opposition from Russia, China and African states.

Syrian protesters

Rights groups say as many as 400 people have been killed since the protests began

A revised US-sponsored draft urged condemnation of "the use of lethal violence against peaceful protesters by the Syrian authorities," and also called for an end to human rights violations. Despite objections from Russia and China to the wording of the text, the US human rights ambassador, Eileen Donahoe, said she was confident the resolution would be adopted.

"(However) we feel relatively confident that there will be a strong majority of countries, members of the Council, who will show convergence of opinion that the situation in Syria warrants our shared condemnation," she told reporters.

The Council was also expected to launch a fact-finding mission to look into abuses and violations committed by Syrian forces against civilians.

Berlin calls for EU sanctions

Ahead of a meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels on the Syrian crisis, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stressed it was important that the international community speak with one voice.

"We Europeans will be implementing sanctions," he said.

The chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament, Ruprecht Polenz, also called for "targeted sanctions" against the Assad regime. Those could include travel restrictions, a freeze on assets and a weapons embargo.

Author: Rob Mudge (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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