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Syrians rally amid heavy military presence

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Tens of thousands of re-energized opponents of the Syrian government gathered Friday for demonstrations on a second day marked by relatively low levels of violence, but the U.N. Security Council was unable to agree on a mission to monitor further implementation of a peace plan.

The protests that now habitually take place after Friday prayers were much anticipated this week, coming 36 hours after a cease-fire mandated in the plan put forward last month by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, which also requires the government to allow peaceful demonstrations of dissent.

The plan has been endorsed by Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies in Russia and China, as well as Western nations that have called for him to step down. However, a heavy military presence Friday thwarted major protests in most cities, and eight civilians were killed across the country by security forces, according to a spokesman for the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The plan's requirements appeared to have been violated by armed members of the opposition as well as by security forces, with two soldiers reportedly killed in an attack near Hama. The information was not possible to verify.

U.N. officials and Western diplomats had hoped that even a partial cease-fire would allow progress on the rest of Annan's six-point proposal, which includes clauses obligating the Assad government to allow humanitarian aid, foreign journalists and U.N. monitors to enter Syria.

But the U.N. Security Council failed to agree Friday on a resolution that would include sending an advance team of up to 30 unarmed military observers to the country, with plans to increase the number to 250 later. The debate stalled as Syria's ally Russia proposed less-stringent wording.

Syrians rally amid heavy military presence 04/13/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012 11:18pm]
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