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Troops storm villages in Syria

Syrian security forces pursuing anti-government protesters stormed several towns and villages today, killing at least six people and wounding many others during raids and house-to-house searches, activists said.

The operations were accompanied by a military build-up just outside the central town of Rastan, which has become a hotbed of dissent against President Bashar Assad's regime.

The prime minister of Turkey, a former close ally, warned Assad that his regime could face a demise like those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya if the violent suppression of protests does not stop.

Syria has come under international condemnation for its crackdown on anti-government protests that began in March, and US and European leaders have demanded Assad step down. The comments from Turkey were some of the bluntest warnings yet and were particularly biting because they came from a leader whose government had extensive diplomatic ties with Syria.

"The only way out is to immediately silence arms and to listen to the people's demands," said prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking in his monthly address aired on Turkish TV.

"We have been watching the fate of those who did not chose this path in the past few months in Tunisia, in Egypt - and now in Libya - as a warning and with sadness.

"Demands for democracy and freedom are the people's just demands. In today's world, there is no place for one-man rule, for autocratic regimes and closed communities," he said.

In Sarameen, five people, including a child, were killed and more than 60 wounded during security raids, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group. One person also died during raids in Qara, a suburb of the capital, Damascus.

In Rastan, heavy machine gun fire by the security forces and the army was reported at its southern entrance.

The heavy deployment around Rastan, which started early today, sent residents fleeing out of fear the town would be stormed. Rastan, on the main highway to Turkey, has been the site of intense anti-regime protests.

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