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A defiant Syria vowed to restore "security and stability" despite growing international censure for its violent crushing of

Hundreds of Syrians fled into northern Lebanon

Syria vows to restore 'security and stability' as activists call for more protests on Friday.


By Rana Moussaoui - DAMASCUS

dissent, as activists called for more protests on Friday.

Growing anger at the regime's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters saw Britain on Thursday withdraw the Syrian ambassador's invitation to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

In Washington, three key US senators urged President Barack Obama to declare that his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad has squandered his legitimacy and must step down.

"We urge President Obama to state unequivocally -- as he did in the case of (Libyan leader Moamer) Gathafi and (Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak -- that it is time for Assad to go," Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and independent Senator Joe Lieberman said in a joint statement.

The European Union is mulling sanctions and the UN Human Rights Council has called a special session for Friday in Geneva on the crackdown in Syria.

In the southern town of Daraa, epicentre of the protests that have shaken Assad's once uncontested rule, water and power have been cut and the death toll has risen to 42 on the fourth day of a military siege, a rights activists said.

Syria has been rocked since March 15 by increasingly strident pro-democracy demonstrations, which the authorities have tried to crush through violence that rights groups say has killed at least 453 civilians.

Information Minister Adnan Mahmud said that the crackdown would continue, despite a European Union threat of sanctions and growing world pressure to allow peaceful protests.

"The authorities are determined to restore security, stability and peace to the citizens," Mahmud said. "In Daraa, the army intervened at the request of the population to restore security."

According to the minister, more than 50 soldiers and dozens of police have been killed and hundreds injured since the revolt began.

Further showdowns are expected after the weekly main Muslim prayers on Friday, when protesters traditionally emerge from mosques to stage mass street demonstrations.

"Friday of Anger, April 29, in solidarity with Daraa," says a notice on the Syrian Revolution 2011 page of Facebook, a motor of the protests in which demonstrators inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world are seeking greater freedoms.

"To the youths of the revolution, tomorrow we will be in all the places, in all the streets ... We will gather at the besieged towns, including with our brothers in Daraa," said the statement posted online on Thursday.

It said demonstrations would also be staged in other flashpoint towns such as Homs in the centre of the country and Banias in the northwest.

A London-based spokesman for Syrian opposition activists called on the army to protect citizens confronted with "brutal repression and killings by security forces."

"We hope that Bashar al-Assad still has an ounce of humanity in him so he can stop this massacre, otherwise the response on Friday will be on the street, where hundreds of thousands will turn out to demonstrate against him and his regime, demanding his departure," Ausama Monajed said.

His group on Wednesday called upon the regime to implement real reform lest it is "overrun by a popular revolution."

A rights activist reached by telephone said the situation was worsening in Daraa, stormed on Monday by between 3,000 and 5,000 troops backed by tanks and snipers.

"We have neither doctors nor medical supplies, not even baby milk. The electricity is always cut and we haven't any more water," Abdallah Abazid said in Nicosia by telephone from Daraa, 100 kilometres (62 miles) south of Damascus.

At least 42 "martyrs" have been killed since Monday, Abazid said. Their families, he added, had been unable to bury them because "security forces were firing on anybody visiting the cemetery," which is controlled by the army.

Hundreds of Syrians on Thursday fled into northern Lebanon on foot after they said unrest broke out in the Syrian border town of Tall Kalakh, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

Those fleeing said Syrian troops encircled Tall Kalakh overnight after a demonstration was held there and were preventing people from entering the town of 25,000 residents.

They carried mattresses and other belongings as they entered Lebanon through Qubeya, an unofficial border crossing in the Wadi Khaled region located in Lebanon's northern district of Akkar.

Russia on Thursday called on its Middle East ally to conduct a thorough probe into those responsible for killing civilians.

The Security Council, however, failed to agree on a statement condemning the killing of Syrian protesters, diplomats in New York said. After talks ended in deadlock, Western nations called for an immediate open meeting.

France called for "strong measures" if Assad rejects appeals to end violence, while the United States said Assad must "change course now" and end the use of tanks and guns.



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