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Syrians: Assad's regime will crumble next

BEIRUT -- Taking inspiration from the rapid unraveling of the regime in Libya, thousands of Syrians poured into the streets yesterday and taunted President Bashar Assad with shouts that his family's 40-year dynasty will be the next dictatorship to crumble.

Assad, who has tried in vain to crush the 5-month-old revolt, appears increasingly out of touch as he refuses to acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of people demanding his ouster, analysts say. Instead, he blames the unrest on Islamic extremists and thugs.

"Gadhafi is gone; now it's your turn, Bashar!" protesters shouted in several cities across the country hours after Assad dismissed calls to step down during an interview on state TV. Security forces opened fire in the central city of Homs, killing at least one person.

"Leaders should know that they will be able to remain in power as long as they remain sensitive to the demands of the people," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, according to Turkey's Anatolia news agency.

Turkey, a former close ally and an important trade partner, has grown increasingly frustrated with Damascus over its deadly crackdown. The violence has left Syria facing the most serious international isolation in decades, with widespread calls for Assad to step down.

Human rights groups say more than 2,000 people, most of them unarmed protesters, have been killed in the crackdown on the uprising.

Syria presented a different case than that of other Arab nations swept by unrest this year.

A military intervention has been all but ruled out, given the quagmire in Libya and the lack of any strong opposition leader in Syria to rally behind.

The United States and other nations have little leverage to threaten further isolation or economic punishment of Assad's pro-Iranian regime. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland dismissed arming the Syrian rebels. "I don't think anybody thinks that more guns into Syria is going to be the right answer right now," she said.

With neither side in the conflict showing any signs of backing down, many fear a drawn-out and bloody stalemate.

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