- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 3, 2012

BEIRUT — French President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Syrian leader Bashar Assad of “barbarous repression” Tuesday and demanded that he step down.

Mr. Sarkozy said Syrians should be allowed to determine their own future.

“The massacres being committed by the Syrian regime rightly arouse disgust and revolt in the Arab world, in France, in Europe and everywhere in the world,” Mr. Sarkozy said during a New Year’s address at a naval air base in Lanveoc-Poulmic, France.

“The Syrian president must leave power,” he told members of the French military.

The U.N.’s last estimate, announced several weeks ago, estimated that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the government’s military crackdown on the revolt that erupted in mid-March, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.

The violence has drawn broad international condemnation and sanctions, but Mr. Assad remains defiant.

The Arab League sent in about 100 observers a week ago to verify Syria’s compliance with the organization’s plan that requires the regime to remove security forces and heavy weapons from city streets, start talks with opposition leaders and free political prisoners.

Syria agreed to the plan, intended to halt the crackdown completely, on Dec. 19.

The Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group of activists, put the death toll at more than 390 people since Dec. 21.

Activists reported more bloodshed Tuesday.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that as dozens of soldiers were defecting in the southern village of Jassem, they came under fire from security forces in a clash that killed at least 18 of the government troops.

The Observatory said security forces later launched raids in the area, detaining more than 100 people in and around the village. The group also said security forces fatally shot three people in the restive city of Homs and three in the central province of Hama.

The Local Coordination Committees had a higher toll, saying security forces killed four people in Homs, one in the Damascus suburb of Kfar Batna and four in the central province of Hama.

The Arab League’s chief acknowledged Monday that killings have continued even with the monitors working on the ground.

The League called an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss whether to withdraw the monitors because security forces are still killing people, an official said. The meeting will be in Cairo, where the Arab League is based.

Syrian opposition groups have been deeply critical of the Arab League mission, saying it is simply giving Mr. Assad cover for his crackdown.

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