Syria warned by Arab League to meet Friday deadline or face crippling sanctions
The Arab League has given Syria until 1100 GMT Friday to endorse a plan for the dispatch of observers to monitor unrest in the country or face crippling sanctions. Turkey said the Friday deadline was Syria's "last chance" to heed world calls for an end to its crackdown on anti-regime protests.
The Arab ultimatum was issued on Thursday at the end of a crisis meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo, during which the 22-member bloc also for the first time called on the United Nations to help resolve the crisis.
But Syria's Cold War ally Russia has dismissed the looming deadline.
"At this stage, what we need is not resolutions, sanctions or pressure, but inter-Syrian dialogue," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in Moscow.
Activists have also called for demonstrators to flood the streets nationwide after the main weekly Muslim prayers in support of dissident army officers.
"The free army protects us," said a message on the Facebook page of the Syrian Revolution 2011, one of the key motors behind more than eights months of protests seeking to unseat the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
At least 51 people were killed in violence across Syrian on Thursday, including 23 regular army soldiers and 15 deserters, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian officials and analysts said this week that Arab sanctions on Syria - which is also facing a raft of US and European punitive measures - could choke the country's economy.
As Friday's death toll reached at least 51, the head of the Free Syrian Army, FSA, Riyadh al-Asaad called for foreign air strikes on "strategic targets" in Syria to speed up the fall of the regime.
According to the FSA chief, the rebel force now has 20,000 men in its ranks and is growing by the day.
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