Syria protest - AFP - May 13, 2011
Syrian anti-regime protesters tearing down a poster of President Bashar al-Assad in Hama, north of Damascus. Photo by AFP/YouTube
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The Syrian government accused U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday of meddling in its internal affairs, following Obama's high-profile Mideast strategy speech in Washington.

The U.S. president on Thursday called for President Bashar Assad to lead his country to democracy or "get out of the way." It was his most direct warning to the leader of a nation embroiled in violence as the government cracks down on a popular uprising.

Syria's official news agency said Friday Obama's speech amounted to "incitement." It accused Obama of interfering in Syria's internal affairs.

Rights groups say more than 850 people have died in the regime crackdown on the uprising since it erupted in March.

Obama said Assad must start a serious dialogue or his regime will continue to be challenged from within and isolated abroad.

The comments came after the Syrian government said earlier Friday that troops have begun withdrawing from a western border town following a six-day military operation that activists say killed at least 36 people.

The withdrawal from the town of Talkalakh comes as the country braces for a fresh wave of protests following Friday Muslim prayers.

Syria's official news agency said the withdrawal from Talkalakh comes after troops successfully ended the state of "chaos" caused by armed gangs.

The withdrawal came just days after Obama's administration imposed personal sanctions on President Assad and other top Syrian officials.

In a statement announcing the newly issued sanctions released on Wednesday, Obama said the new measures were taken "in order to take additional steps with respect to the Government of Syria's continuing escalation of violence against the people of Syria."

That violence, the statement added, included "attacks on protestors, arrests and harassment of protestors and political activists, and repression of democratic change, overseen and executed by numerous elements of the Syrian government."

Beside Assad himself, the document lists the other senior Syrian officials sanctioned by the new measures as Assad, Syrian Vice President Farouk AL-Shara, Prime Minister Adel Safar, Minister of the Interior Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, Minister of Defense Ali Habib Mahmoud, Head of Syrian Military Intelligence Abdul Fatah Qudsiya, and Director of Political Security Directorate Mohammad Dib Zaitoun.