Defiant Syria vows protest crackdown to continue

Syria defiantly vowed to restore "security and stability" across the country despite growing international censure for its violent crushing of dissent, as activists called for more protests on Friday.

The U.N. Security Council powers, meanwhile, clashed Wednesday over Syria's deadly crackdown on opposition protests, with Russia warning the West that "outside interference" could spark civil war.

And in the southern town of Daraa, epicenter of the protests that have shaken President Bashar al-Assad's once uncontested rule, water and power have been cut and the death toll has risen to 42 on the fourth day of a military siege, a rights activists said.

Syria has been rocked since March 15 by increasingly strident anti-regime demonstrations, which the authorities have attempted to crush through violence that rights groups say has killed at least 453 civilians.

Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud told AFP on Thursday that the crackdown would continue, despite a European Union threat of sanctions and growing world pressure to allow peaceful protests. "The authorities are determined to restore security, stability and peace to the citizens," Mahmud said. "In Daraa, the army intervened at the request of the population to restore security," he added. According to the minister, more than 50 soldiers and dozens of police have been killed and hundreds injured since the revolt began.

Further showdowns are expected after the weekly main Muslim prayers on Friday, when protesters traditionally emerge from mosques to stage mass street demonstrations. "Friday of Anger, April 29, in solidarity with Daraa," says a notice on the Syrian Revolution 2011 page of Facebook, a motor of the protests in which demonstrators inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world are seeking greater freedoms.

"To the youths of the revolution, tomorrow we will be in all the places, in all the streets ... we will gather at the besieged towns, including with our brothers in Daraa," said the statement posted online on Thursday.

A London-based spokesman for Syrian opposition activists called on the army to protect citizens confronted with "brutal repression and killings by security forces."

A rights activist reached by telephone said the situation was worsening in Daraa, stormed on Monday by between 3,000 and 5,000 troops backed by tanks. At least 42 "martyrs" have been killed since Monday, Abdallah Abazid told AFP by telephone from Daraa.

Hundreds of Syrians meanwhile on Thursday fled into northern Lebanon on foot after they said unrest broke out in the Syrian border town of Tall Kalakh. In a fresh blow to the regime, 233 members of Syria's ruling Baath party announced their resignation in protest at the deadly crackdown on protesters, according to lists seen by AFP.

"The security services have demolished the values with which we grew up. We denounce and condemn everything that has taken place and announce with regret our resignation from the party," they said in a signed statement.

Russia on Thursday called on its Middle East ally to conduct a thorough probe into those responsible for killing civilians. The Security Council, however, failed to agree on a statement condemning the killing of Syrian protesters, diplomats in New York said. After talks ended in deadlock, Western nations called for an immediate open meeting.

France called for "strong measures" against Syria if President Bashar al-Assad rejects appeals to end violence in which hundreds have died. The United States said Assad must "change course now" and end the use of tanks and guns.

Western nations demanded an open meeting of the Security Council after Russia and China blocked a proposed statement condemning the Syria violence.