Pro-democracy activists called a "day of anger" across Syria on Tuesday to protest against Russia's backing for President Bashar Assad, after his security forces shot dead at least another 19 people.
"Do not support the killers," activists urged Russia in a message announcing Tuesday's action posted on The Syrian Revolution 2011, a Facebook page that has been the engine for the six-month-old revolt against Assad's regime.
"We express our anger towards Russia and the Russian government. The regime will disappear but the people will live," the activists added.
Moscow has blocked Western-led efforts at the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions against the Syrian regime and is promoting a rival draft resolution that simply calls on the government and the opposition to open direct talks.
President Dmitry Medvedev defended the Russian position in talks in Moscow on Monday with British Prime Minister David Cameron even as the Syrian security forces pressed their deadly crackdown on dissent.
Security forces in Syria shot dead 17 people and arrested more than 60 around the flashpoint central city of Hama on Monday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Agence France Presse in Cyprus.
It said a 12-year-old boy had been shot dead in Douma, near Damascus, when security forces opened fired on a funeral, and a man and his son killed in the town of al-Rastan in the central province of Homs.
Activists organizing anti-government protests on the ground put the day's death toll at 19.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that, as of Monday, a total of 2,600 people had been killed in the Syrian government's crackdown.
But senior Assad aide Bouthaina Shaaban said on a visit to Moscow that 1,400 people had died since the demonstrations erupted in mid-March -- half of them security force personnel and half of them "rebels".
Damascus has consistently maintained that the protests are the work of armed groups, rejecting the reports of Western embassies and human rights groups that the great majority of those killed have been unarmed civilians.
France has been among those to have accused Assad's regime of crimes against humanity in its crackdown. On Monday, the foreign ministry in Paris said the U.N. Security Council's inability to approve a resolution on Syria was "a scandal."
"How long will the international community remain blind and dumb in the face of this endless sequence of crimes?" said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.
But Medvedev refused to give any ground.
He insisted the Kremlin was ready to put more pressure on Assad and argued his differences with the West were "not dramatic".
Yet he also stressed any punitive actions should be applied to both sides equally because the opposition was continuing to reject calls to engage in direct talks.
"This resolution must be strict, but it must not lead to the automatic application of sanctions," Medvedev said.
Cameron expressed disappointment after his talks with the Russian president. "Clearly, Britain would like to go further. We do not see a future for Assad," he said.
Washington too renewed its call for stronger action by the U.N. Security Council against the Syrian regime.
The U.S. "strongly disagreed" with Medvedev's comments, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
"We want a resolution that has sanctions teeth," she said.
Assad aide Shaaban said after her talks in Moscow that Syria favoured the cautious reform process seen in Russia since the Soviet Union's collapse.
"In the past 20 years, Russia has undergone various processes that led to structural changes," she said.
"We want things in Syria to develop the way they did in Russia, in a bloodless manner."
Shaaban rejected calls for mediation with the protesters.
"Is there any party in Syria with which (Russia) could mediate?" she asked. "There is no such party."
Syrian dissidents based abroad announced on Monday that they were finalizing the line-up of a "national council" similar to the one in Libya to coordinate opposition to Assad's government.
The aim of the council is "the fall of the regime, which is the demand of revolutionaries and street protestors in Syria", France-based opposition activist told an Istanbul news conference.
The Syrian authorities have tolerated some meetings in Damascus which have been attended by a few longstanding dissidents but which have been strongly criticized by protest organizers.
However the security forces detained one of their organizers at the weekend as she was preparing to board a flight to Paris, her husband said.
Rafa Nached, a 66-year-old psychoanalyst, was arrested by officers of Syria's air force intelligence service on Saturday as her luggage was being scanned at Damascus airport, said Faisal Mohammed Abdullah, professor of ancient history at Damascus University.
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