US, Britain, Saudi demand end to Syria crackdown

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US President Barack Obama joined his British and Saudi counterparts Saturday in demanding that the Syrian regime "immediately" halt its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

During a telephone conversation, Obama and Saudi King Abdullah expressed their "shared, deep concerns about the Syrian government's use of violence against its citizens," the White House said in a statement.

"They agreed that the Syrian regime's brutal campaign of violence against the Syrian people must end immediately."

The call came after Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim regional heavyweight which had remained silent on the five-month revolt, added its voice to a chorus of criticism and recalled its ambassador from Damascus.

Kuwait and Bahrain followed suit this week, while the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League condemned the violence that has left more than 2,150 people dead, including more than 400 members of the security forces, according to rights activists.

Turkey, which shares a border with Syria and has a large Sunni population, has also expressed growing impatience with Assad's scorched earth policy, as has Russia, a longtime Syrian ally.

Washington has steadily ratcheted up the pressure on Damascus, imposing new sanctions and saying President Bashar al-Assad has lost all legitimacy, but has so far stopped short of openly calling for him to step down.

In a separate phone call, Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron also agreed on the need for an "immediate" end to the bloodshed.

They reiterated "their deep concern about the Syrian government's use of violence against civilians and their belief that the Syrian people's legitimate demands for a transition to democracy should be met," the White House said.

A spokesman for Downing Street said the two leaders "expressed horror at the brutal reaction of the Syrian regime to legitimate protests, particularly during Ramadan," the holy month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

Syrian troops backed by tanks have struggled to crush the revolt since pro-democracy protests erupted into a full-scale uprising in mid-March, despite repeated calls for restraint from world leaders.

At least 20 people were killed Friday when security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters who rallied in flashpoint cities after weekly Muslim prayers, activists said.

The UN Security Council is due to hold a special meeting on Thursday to discuss human rights and the humanitarian emergency in Syria.

© 2011 AFP

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