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UN: Assad must fall: Obama


US President Barack Obama on Tuesday accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of committing massacres against civilians and demanded that the country face "sanctions and consequences."

"The future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people," Obama told the UN General Assembly in a keynote address, adding that Assad's rule must come to an end.

"If there is a cause that cries out for protest in the world today, it is a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets at apartment buildings."

The United Nations and human rights organizations have accused both the Syrian regime and anti-regime rebel groups of committing human rights abuses.

Obama made no demands of the rebel groups, but offered his support to "those Syrians who believe in a different vision."

He told leaders at the UN headquarters: "As we meet here, we again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop, and a new dawn can begin."

Obama also warned that the international community must act to prevent the 18-month-old uprising against Assad turning into "a cycle of sectarian violence."

He said the United States wants a Syria "that is united and inclusive; where children don't need to fear their own government, and all Syrians have a say in how they are governed – Sunnis and Alawites; Kurds and Christians."

"That is the outcome that we will work for – with sanctions and consequences for those who persecute; and assistance and support for those who work for this common good," Obama said.

"We believe that the Syrians who embrace this vision will have the strength and legitimacy to lead."

Obama also described the attacks on US citizens in Libya as "attacks on America" and said the world faces "a choice between the forces that would drive us apart and the hopes we hold in common."

"I do believe that it is the obligation of all leaders, in all countries, to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism," Obama said.

The president condemned the amateur anti-Muslim video that sparked the recent protests that killed dozens of people, including the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, calling it "cruel and disgusting."

"There is no speech that justifies mindless violence," Obama said.

But he strongly defended the US Constitution's guarantee of the freedom of expression, "even views that we profoundly disagree with."

Obama also warned that the time to peacefully curb the Iranian nuclear crisis is running out. He said there is "still time and space" to resolve the issue through diplomacy, but he said that time is not unlimited.

"Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations and the unraveling of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty," he said.

Obama told the UN: "Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on the prospect of peace."

(AFP, Al-Akhbar, AP)

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