- Associated Press - Monday, September 12, 2011

GENEVA — At least 2,600 people have died in the six months of unrest that has swept Syria, the U.N.’s top human rights official said Monday, as a panel was named to investigate abuses in the Arab country.

The figure released by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay adds to evidence that Syrian leader Bashar Assad is continuing his crackdown on anti-government dissidents despite international pressure.

“According to reliable sources on the ground, the number of those killed since the onset of the unrest in mid-March 2011 in that country has now reached at least 2,600,” Pillay said. She added that her office continues to be denied access to Syria.

“The situation in Syria is still dire,” Pillay told reporters after a speech at the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Last month, the Geneva-based body held an emergency meeting at which it voted overwhelmingly to demand Assad’s government end its bloody crackdown.

“From the time that the Human Rights Council passed its resolution and the Security Council has addressed the matter, the situation in Syria has worsened and peaceful protesters have been killed,” Pillay said, adding that she was “shocked” by the rising death toll.

The council on Monday named three independent experts to lead an international investigation of allegations of human rights abuses in Syria.

They are Turkish women’s rights expert Yakin Erturk; former U.N. investigator for Myanmar Sergio Pinheiro of Brazil; and Karen Abu Zayd, a U.S. citizen and former head of UNRWA, the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees.

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