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Syria officials quit over crackdown

More than 200 members have quit Syria's ruling Baath party in protest against President Bashar Assad's brutal crackdown on opponents, a human rights activist has said.

The resignations came in the southern province at the centre of the uprising against the regime. Mustafa Osso said another 30 resigned in the coastal city of Banias. Most were lower-rank members.

Even though they are still small in scope - the Baath party counts more than a million members in Syria - such walkouts were unimaginable before the uprising began.

Syria's uprising against Assad's authoritarian regime started in the southern city of Daraa, the provincial capital, on March 15.

Assad has tried to crush the revolt - the gravest challenge to his family's 40-year ruling dynasty. More than 450 people have been killed across Syria in the crackdown, with 120 dying over the weekend.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said the latest death toll his group had was 454. He added that snipers killed more people and that 43 have died since the military descended on Daraa on Monday.

Daraa resident Abdullah Abazeid said military operations were continuing in the city, with troops using heavy machine guns. He added that snipers shot dead more people and that 42 have died since the military descended on Daraa on Monday.

But the Syrian government denied that there had been any splits in the military, which is seen as fiercely loyal to Assad. The army also denied any defections. Assad has blamed most of the unrest on a "foreign conspiracy" and armed thugs.

Six tanks rolled into the northern port of Latakia - a key city in the heartland of Syria's ruling elite - and security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators wounding four, witnesses said. Unrest in Latakia is significant because the province has strong historical ties to Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

In the Damascus suburb of Douma, security forces strengthened their control, fortifying checkpoints on roads into the area and setting up sand barriers, a resident said.


From Belfast Telegraph