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HRW: Syria Denies Protesters Medical Treatment

Syrian security forces prevented medical staff from reaching the wounded in at least two towns that saw clashes with anti-government protesters, an international human rights group said Tuesday.

Protests erupted in Syria more than three weeks ago and have steadily grown, with tens of thousands calling for sweeping reforms in one of the most authoritarian Mideast regimes. More than 170 people have been killed so far.

Human Rights Watch urged Syrian authorities in a statement released Tuesday to allow those injured in the violence "unimpeded access" to medical treatment.

Meanwhile, Syria's leading pro-democracy group, the Damascus Declaration, urged the Arab League in Cairo to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Syria and put "political and diplomatic" pressure on Damascus to protect civilians. The Syrian group said more than 200 people have been killed in the turmoil across the nation.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said security forces did not allow ambulances to approach the road to pick up the wounded after prayers last Friday in the southern town of Daraa and in the town of Harasta, near Damascus. About three dozen people died in the violence that day.

"To deprive wounded people of critical and perhaps life-saving medical treatment is both inhumane and illegal," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Barring people from needed medical care causes grave suffering and perhaps irreparable harm."

The Syrian group's statement, issued late Monday, said people have been protesting peacefully "but bullets were the response of security forces." It said the Syrian regime ordered international media to leave the country in order to prevent the "revealing of atrocities the regime inflicted against the people."

It urged the Arab League to impose political, diplomatic and economic sanctions against the regime in Syria.

In the latest violence, security forces killed a student Monday during a protest at Damascus University, activists said. There were conflicting reports about whether the student was shot or beaten to death.

Also Monday, international pressure mounted on Syrian President Bashar Assad, with key European governments and the United Nations denouncing the deadly crackdown that has failed to dampen the popular uprising.

After the protests began, Assad promised to form committees to look into the possibility of reform. Other gestures included granting citizenship to thousands of Kurds, the country's long-ostracized minority, and sacking his Cabinet.

"Syria's leaders talk about political reform, but they meet their people's legitimate demands for reform with bullets," Whitson said.