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Obama levies tech sanctions on Syria, Iran

WASHINGTON -- Under pressure to stop the Syrian government's deadly crackdown, President Barack Obama levied new sanctions Monday on people and entities in Syria and Iran that use technology to target their citizens and perpetrate human rights abuses.

Obama's announcement underscored the degree to which technology, from cellphones to social media, has fueled popular uprisings in countries throughout the Arab world and at the same time has given autocratic regimes new ways to track dissidents and suppress political dissent.

"These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them," said Obama, as he announced the sanctions during a solemn speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Surrounded by the haunting memories of the Holocaust, Obama spoke broadly about the international community's obligation to prevent the "madness" of mass killings. And he issued a sharp warning to governments that launch violent crackdowns on civilians.

"National sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your people," he said.

As Obama spoke, Syrian troops with heavy machine guns killed dozens in the central city of Hama, a direct violation of a shaky United Nations-backed cease-fire. More than 9,000 people have been killed in 13 months of clashes between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

Obama held firm yesterday in his belief that the United States "cannot and should not" intervene militarily every time there are human rights abuses around the world. He touted the new technology sanctions as "one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come, the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people."

The executive order Obama signed, authorizing the sanctions, contends the Syrian and Iranian governments have rapidly increased their capabilities to disrupt, monitor and track communications networks that are essential for their citizens to engage with each other and the outside world.

The new penalties target entities and individuals within Iran and Syria, including Syria's intelligence service and its director, Iran's intelligence ministry and law enforcement organizations, and Iran's Revolutionary Guard. An Iranian Internet provider and a Syrian communications firm were also sanctioned. The sanctions restrict financial assets and bar those affiliated with the penalized entities from entering the United States.

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