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Outside pressure builds on Syria

Syrian troops tightened their siege on the city of Hama yesterday, drawing a fresh wave of international condemnation against a regime defying the growing calls to end its crackdown on anti-government protesters.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Syrian democracy activists based in America as the Obama administration considered new sanctions against Syria.

Congressional calls also mounted for action against President Bashar Assad's regime as the death toll from military assaults on civilians on Sunday and Monday neared 100.

Italy recalled its ambassador to Syria "in the face of the horrible repression against the civil population" by the government, which launched a new push against protesters as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began yesterday.

The mounting international outcry has had no apparent effect so far in Syria, an autocratic country that relies on Iran as its ally in the region.

The top US military officer said Washington wants to pressure the Syrian regime, but he added there was no immediate prospect of a Libya-style military intervention.

"There's no indication whatsoever that we would get involved directly with respect to this," said Admiral Mike Mullen.

As expected, protests erupted last night across the country, with hundreds turning out in cities including Homs, Latakia, the Damascus suburbs and the eastern city of Deir el-Zour. There were scattered protests in Hama, but heavy shelling kept most people inside.

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