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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block. Western nations are ratcheting up pressure on Syria today. That's after a massacre this weekend that's being blamed on the Syrian government. The U.S. and at least 10 other nations are expelling senior Syrian diplomats from their capitals and reiterating their calls for President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power. NPR's Jackie Northam begins our coverage.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The coordinated decision to expel Syrian diplomats and ambassadors is in direct response to the massacre in Houla. The U.N. says more than 100 people were killed in that cluster of villages in central Syria. Eighty women and children were among the dead, most of them shot at close range. Survivors and U.N. officials blame pro-government militias who stormed the villages after they were bombarded by Syrian troops. From Ottawa to Paris to Canberra, the reaction was a mix of revulsion and anger, as summed up by Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr.
BOB CARR: Ladies and gentlemen, Australians have seen the bodies in Houla, and they're appalled. They're appalled that a regime could connive in or organize the execution, the killing of men, women and children. And Australians want that conveyed, and the best way of conveying it is to expel Syrian diplomats from Australia.
NORTHAM: State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland says the various nations were in contact shortly after the massacre to decide how to harden their stance towards the Syrian government. Soon enough, Syrian diplomats were informed they needed to pack their bags, including here in the U.S., says Nuland.
VICTORIA NULAND: This morning, we called in Syrian charge d'affaires, Zouheir Jabbour, and informed him that he is no longer welcome in the United States and gave him 72 hours to depart.
NORTHAM: There was similar action from Canada, where the government expelled two Syrian diplomats and their families and refused entry to another. Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., says it's difficult to tell whether the move will help push the Syrian government to end to the violence.
AMBASSADOR GARY DOER: I think all acts are helpful, but the proof is always in the pudding. The desire is for a cease-fire and anything that can lead us to that cease-fire, as agreed upon by the Syrian regime and by the U.N., hopefully, will make a difference. But, obviously, it didn't this last weekend.
NORTHAM: The expulsions came as international envoy Kofi Annan met with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, telling him that bold steps were needed to salvage his six-point peace plan. But the State Department's Nuland indicated that the U.S. and other nations were already looking ahead.
NULAND: We will obviously continue to look at other ways we can pressure the regime economically, politically, diplomatically and continue to try to tighten the noose.
NORTHAM: Throughout the day, more countries - Switzerland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and others - jumped on board and expelled Syrian diplomats. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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