After months of prevarication United States President Barack Obama on Thursday called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down in the wake of “ferocious brutality” meted out by Syrian forces against peaceful demonstrators, including allegations of killings, torture and imprisonments.

Arguing that Mr. Assad's calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow given the violence inflicted upon the Syrian people, Mr. Obama said in a statement that the U.S. had consistently said Mr. Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way.

“He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” Mr. Obama announced, in a statement that was coordinated with similar condemnation of Mr. al-Assad's regime by other leading nations including France, Britain and Germany, and the United Nations.

Shortly before Mr. Obama's remarks, a U.N. human rights panel said Syria's crackdown, including “summary executions, torturing prisoners and harming children in their crackdown against opposition protesters”, might amount to crimes against humanity and should be referred to the International Criminal Court.

However in a phone call to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday, Mr. Assad said military and police operations against pro-democracy protesters had stopped, according to the U.N. “The Secretary-General emphasised that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately. President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped,” the U.N. statement said.

The U.S. demand for Mr. Assad to step down is the latest among a raft of measures designed to ramp up international diplomatic pressure against the Syrian regime. Included among these is an Executive Order, issued by Mr. Obama along with his demand, aimed at freezing all Syrian government assets under U.S. jurisdiction and blocking all U.S. transactions with the al-Assad government.

In particular U.S. sanctions have targeted the Syrian oil and gas industry, in the context of which the State Department called upon Indian and Chinese companies to halt their trade with Syria.

The call for Mr. al-Assad to step down marks a stronger thrust in the U.S. post-“Arab Spring” Middle East foreign policy. In keeping with this development the rebel faction in Libya also reopened its embassy in Washington this week, after the U.S. recognised the rebel's Transitional National Council in recent months as the “legitimate representatives of the Libyan people.”

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