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Syria clamps down on protests

Syrian security agents tightened security and made sweeping arrests Saturday as President Bashar Assad tried to cut off two weeks of deadly pro-democracy demonstrations that are threatening his family's ruling dynasty.

The death toll from two weeks of protests was around 80 people, after at least 10 were killed Friday in clashes with security forces. Authorities began arresting dozens of people, mostly in and around the capital, Damascus, in the hours after the protests broke up and into early Saturday, activists said.

They asked that their names not be used for fear of reprisals.

The extraordinary wave of protests has proved the most serious challenge yet to the Assad family's 40-year dynasty, one of the most rigid regimes in the Middle East. After Assad blamed a "foreign conspiracy" for the unrest and offered limited gestures of reform, protesters who had expected more from him returned to the streets.

In Douma, security forces were taking strict measures and checking identity cards of people trying to enter or leave, a resident said. At least five people were killed in Douma on Friday.

Expressing deep concern, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called on the government to address the "legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people."

Two Americans released

Two Americans detained in Syria were released Friday after two weeks in custody, American officials said. Both were arrested while taking photographs of demonstrations on March 18, according to Syrian state media. Engineer Mohammed Radwan, 32, from Austin, Texas, was accused of selling photos and video of demonstrations to a Colombian woman. Syria's state news agency said Radwan also confessed to visiting Israel, with which Syria is formally at war. Radwan also has Egyptian citizenship. Pathik Root, 21, a student at Middlebury College in Ripton, Vt., was studying Arabic in Damascus as part of a program through Damascus University.

Senator says recall ambassador: South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune said Saturday that the United States should recall its ambassador from Damascus amid Syria's deadly crackdown. Thune told a meeting of Republican Jews in Las Vegas that Damascus did not deserve to have a U.S. representative after Syrian attempts to forcibly quell pro-democracy protests.

Syria clamps down on protests 04/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 2, 2011 9:30pm]

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