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Several Syrian towns observed calls for a general strike yesterday, one day after protests in which at least nine people were killed by security forces, activists said.

Most streets in the central city of Homs appeared deserted due to a large-scale security crackdown, said opposition group Local Coordination Committees of Syria. Several stores were reportedly burned down in Bab al-Sebaa, a neighborhood of Homs. Heavy gunfire also was reported.

Presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban said yesterday that Syria would become a country of political pluralism through "a map of reforms" she said were being carried out.

"The model of coexistence in Syria is being targeted by the incidents that the country is witnessing," Shaaban told a gathering of Syrian expatriates in Damascus.

Admitting "grievances" in Syria, she said, "This is an internal affair. ... There is a big problem caused by armed groups that block roads and target army and security troops."

Meanwhile, a Syrian military source denied reports of explosions yesterday in the Military Academy in Homs.

He told Syria News, a private website, that an armed group had fired rocket-propelled grenades at the outside wall of the academy. The source, who asked not to be identified, said the attack had caused no casualties.

Also yesterday, state television reported that the driver of a Syrian passenger train died when his locomotive overturned as a result of sabotage to the rails in Homs.

Some 485 passengers on the train - traveling from Aleppo in the north to Damascus - survived the incident.

The television report said "subversive groups" had damaged the rails, showing footage of the damaged tracks and the train.

"For sure, it is a subversive act," said George Essa, director of the Railways Authority in Homs.

"The saboteurs removed parts of the rail tracks," he told Syria News.

For weeks, Homs has been a center of anti-government protests, which activists say have made the city the target of a draconian security clampdown.

The official Syrian News Agency SANA reported that army troops had rounded up what it described as members of armed groups in Homs for blocking roads and terrorizing residents.

UN experts on genocide said Friday the Syrian government may be charged with crimes against humanity, as it has continued to crack down on unarmed protesters.

"Based on available information, the special advisers consider that the scale and gravity of the violations indicate a serious possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed and continue to be committed in Syria," the advisers said in a statement.

Edward Luck and Joseph Deng are the UN special advisers on the prevention of genocide and the responsibility to protect. They have been following developments in North Africa and the Middle East, where waves of popular unrest have unsettled many governments in recent months.

They said Syrian security forces had reportedly been targeting civilian protesters, "killing them and arbitrarily arresting residents, often from their homes."

"There have been numerous reports of disappearances and the torture of detainees," they said.

More than 1,400 people have been killed by security forces since pro-democracy protests began in Syria in mid-March, according to local human rights advocates.

The reports are difficult to verify, as Syrian authorities have barred most foreign media and international human rights groups from the country.