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US evacuates staff, EU ups pressure on Syria

WASHINGTON - From wire dispatches | 4/26/2011 12:00:00 AM |

The US is hardening its tone on Damascus's crackdown on protests as Italy, France and Britain call for an end to the 'violent repression' against demonstrations.

The United States has ordered embassy families and some staff out of Syria as it hardens its tone on Damascus’s crackdown on protests, though without calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Italy, France and Britain have meanwhile called for an end to the “violent repression” against demonstrations, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy saying the situation was “unacceptable.”

The U.S. State Department late Monday ordered embassy family members and some non-emergency personnel to leave Syria, after an earlier travel warning telling U.S. citizens to leave the country because of escalating attacks on protesters.

Britain said it was working with Washington and the European Union to send a “strong signal” to Syria, while France also called for measures and joined forces with Italy to denounce the “unacceptable” situation in the Middle Eastern country.

“We issue a strong call to the authorities in Damascus to end the violent repression against what are peaceful demonstrations,” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said a news conference following the French-Italian summit. “We ask all sides to act with moderation. We renew our request for Syrian authorities to act concretely and immediately on the major reforms that they have announced.”

Sarkozy said any type of foreign military intervention in Syria would have to be supported by a U.N. Security Council resolution. “It would not be easy to obtain,” he said.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said the United Kingdom “is working intensively with our international partners to persuade the Syrian authorities to stop the violence and respect basic and universal human rights to freedoms of expression and assembly.”

Washington has meanwhile defended the presence in Damascus of a U.S. ambassador, who arrived in January after six years without anyone at the post. “The brutal violence used by the government of Syria against its people is completely deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Monday.

Diplomats said Britain, France, Germany and Portugal are seeking a U.N. Security Council condemnation of the killing of hundreds of demonstrators in Syria and a call for an independent investigation.

Syria’s election to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council is all but assured as one of four candidates selected to fill four Asian seats unless another candidate enters the race or Syria fails to win a majority of votes in the May 20 election in the 192-member General Assembly.

* Compiled from Associated Press and Agence France-Presse reports by the Daily News staff.



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