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Syria toll more than 5,000, says UN

More than 5,000 people have died in the nine-month Syrian uprising, the UN's human rights chief has said.

Navi Pillay said she had told Security Council members of the dramatic increase in deaths during a briefing.

The death toll used by the UN in recent weeks had been around 4,000.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said she recommended that the council refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, the permanent war crimes tribunal, for investigation of possible crimes against humanity.

Ms Pillay said that at least 300 children are among the dead, and there are thousands of people in detention.

She noted that the last time she briefed the council on Syria, in August, the death toll was at about 2,000.

France, Britain, the US and Portugal also said it was time for the Human Rights Council to take strong action on Syria. "Obviously, we will consider a range of options when the issue comes back to the Security Council," British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said. "We will need to move in lockstep with the Arab League."

Last month, Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed Security Council resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria. "The only way to resolve the situation in Syria is through a Syrian-led political process, and that means dialogue," Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said.

Meanwhile Russia has accused the West of taking an "immoral" stance on Syria by pressuring president Bashar Assad while refusing to condemn violence by what it called "armed extremist groups" trying to overthrow the Arab strongman.

Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov also rebuffed calls on Moscow to back sanctions against Syria.

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