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Pressure Grows On Damascus As Tunis Gathering Seeks Cease-Fire


Police clash with protesters during a demonstration against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad outside the "Friends of Syria" conference in Tunis on February 24.

Police clash with protesters during a demonstration against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad outside the "Friends of Syria" conference in Tunis on February 24.

Western leaders have been leading calls on Syrian government to declare an immediate cease-fire, as representatives of scores of Arab and other countries gathered in the Tunisian capital to discuss the current crisis in Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Syrian regime will have "more blood on its hands" if it doesn't immediately comply with the cease-fire demands coming from the group of 70 Western and Arab states.

Speaking at the end of the "Friends of Syria" conference, Clinton also harshly criticized Russia and China for siding with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"It is just despicable, and I ask, whose side are they on?" Clinton said. "They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people, and they need to ask themselves some very hard questions about what that means for them as well as for the rest of us."

Speaking on the sideline of the same gathering, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the situation in Syria has deteriorated for a year and so far 7,000 people have died in President Bashar al-Assad's regime crackdown on protestors.

"The fact that so many countries have come together and will now be taking many measures together -- diplomatic measures, reducing diplomatic ties, increasing the economic pressure, and so on -- I think that is going to make a steadily greater impact," Hague said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the European Union would freeze the assets of Syria's central bank from February 27 in an effort to stop the violence.

The meetings participants, however, appeared divided over the future course.

Saudi Arabia's delegation walked out of the meeting over what it called "inactivity."

Earlier, several hundred Assad supporters tried to force their way into the gathering's venue. Reports say that a crowd arrived in buses at the Palace Hotel, in a suburb of Tunis, and then forced its way past perimeter gates. But riot police beat back the several dozen protesters.

The international pressure on Syria increased amid more violence in the country.

Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that government forces killed 18 civilians, including seven members of the same family, in the central Syrian province of Hama.

In besieged Homs city, the prime target of government reprisals, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent began evacuating wounded or sick women and children from Baba Amr district.

"It's a first step forward," Carla Haddad, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

Based on Reuters, AP, and AFP reporting
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