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Syrian government troops storm town

Troops firing machine guns mounted on tanks have stormed a town in central Syria.

Tanks and armoured vehicles entered Rastan early on Tuesday, pouring dozens of troops into the town's streets.

Rastan, which lies on the road to Turkey near the central Syrian city of Homs, has emerged as a hotbed of dissent against Syrian president Bashar Assad's autocratic regime, and army deserters have clashed there with military and security forces.

According to the network of local coordination committees and other groups, the attacks in Rastan resulted in several casualties.

The offensive began overnight and continued through the morning, leaving at least 20 people wounded, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The United Nations estimates that more than 2,700 civilians have been killed by the government since the uprising began in Syria in mid-March

Ignoring the mounting death toll from his government's bloody crackdown, Syria's foreign minister Walid al-Moallem told the UN on Monday that external critics were to blame for the violence and for causing delays in Assad's plans for democratic reforms.

In a speech to the UN General Assembly, he said the Assad regime had been on the brink of wide-ranging democratic reforms when foreign-inspired religious radicals and armed groups forced the regime to put down the rebellion to hold the country together.

According to Mr al-Moallem, changes "had to take a back seat to other priorities". He said: "Our overriding priority was facing the external pressures which were at times tantamount to blatant conspiracies."

The long-time foreign minister said internal desires for reform "have been manipulated to future objectives which are alien to the interests and express desires of the Syrian people".

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