BEIRUT — Syria accused the United States of meddling Friday after President Barack Obama said that the Syrian president should lead his country to democracy or “get out of the way.”
Syria’s official news agency said Obama’s speech amounted to “incitement.”
The comments by the U.S. president on Thursday were his most direct warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime is trying to crush a popular revolt.
“Obama’s speech confirms the reality of American intervention in the internal affairs of the region’s countries, including Syria,” the statement said.
Syria has launched a bloody crackdown over the past two months on an unprecedented uprising, unleashing the army and security forces to crush dissent. More than 850 people have been killed in the crackdown, human rights groups say.
Syria has blamed the unrest on armed thugs and foreign agitators.
On Friday, Syrian troops began withdrawing from a western border town following a six-day military operation that activists say killed at least 36 people.
Syria’s official news agency said the withdrawal from Talkalakh came after troops successfully ended the state of “chaos” caused by armed gangs.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed some army units were starting to withdraw. He said the number of civilians killed in the operation had reached 36.
The country, meanwhile, braced for a fresh wave of protests following Friday Muslim prayers.
The protests were dubbed “azadeh,” the Kurdish word for “freedom,” in what appeared to be an effort to rally hundreds of thousands among Syria’s long-ostracized Kurdish community to take part in the protests.
Last week, mass arrests and heavy security kept crowds below previous levels seen during the uprising, suggesting Assad’s sweeping campaign of intimidation was working.