Assad - AP file photo - released 31.7.11
Syrian President Bashar Assad delivering a speech in Damascus, Syria, on June 20, 2011. Photo by AP
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U.S. President Barack Obama called on his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad to step down on Thursday, after months of regime-sponsored violence against civilian protesters that has left an estimated 2,000 people dead.

The European Union issued an almost identical call Thursday, and also threatened to toughen its sanctions against Assad's regime.

The Obama administration also imposed fresh sanctions on Syria's government, freezing any of its assets in the United States as well as banning petroleum products of Syrian origin.

Obama said Assad has overseen a vicious onslaught of his people as they protest for freedoms. He said the Syrian people will decide their country's future but Assad is standing in their way and must go.

"The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way," Obama said in a stinging written statement. "His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his
own people.

"For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside."

 

 

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on countries to stop buying Syrian oil and gas -- Europe's main purchasers include France, Germany and the Netherlands -- and to get China and India to curb their investments in Syria.

"For months the world has borne witness to the Assad regime's contempt for its own people," Clinton said in a brief State Department appearance on Thursday. "The transition to democracy in Syria has begun and it's time for Assad to get out of the way."

The latest round of sanctions against Assad and his government prohibit U.S. entities,
wherever located, from engaging in any transactions or dealings with Syrian petroleum products.

The administration also blacklisted a new round of Syrian companies, including the state-owned General Petroleum Corporation that controls the country's oil and gas industry.

'Complete loss of legitimacy' 

Using similarly strong language to Obama,  the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement that, "The EU has repeatedly emphasised that the brutal repression
must be stopped ... The Syrian leadership, however, has remained
defiant,"

"This shows that the Syrian regime is unwilling to change... The EU notes the complete loss of Bashar al-Assad's legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people and the necessity for him to step aside," Ashton said.

Ashton said the EU's 27 governments were preparing to extend their list of Syrian entities targeted by EU sanctions and discussing ways to broaden the bloc's measures against Assad.

"The EU is moving ahead with discussing further restrictive measures that will broaden its sanctions against the Syrian regime. By these efforts we continue to aim at assisting the Syrian people to achieve their legitimate aspirations," she said.