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2 December 2011 Last updated at 12:14 ET
Syria 'violations' condemned by UN Human Rights Council
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay: "All acts of, torture and other violence must be stopped immediately"
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Syria Crisis
Inching towards civil war
The view from next door
Q&A: Syria sanctions
Impact of sanctions
The UN Human Rights Council has strongly condemned the violence in Syria and is to appoint a special investigator on the crackdown on anti-government protesters.
A council report on the violence is to be sent to the UN Secretary General.
The UN estimates 4,000 people have been killed during a crackdown on anti-government protests.
The UK ambassador said it was the toughest resolution ever passed by the Geneva-based council.
Earlier, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay called for "urgent" action to protect civilians in Syria.
'Crimes against humanity'
The resolution was approved at an emergency meeting of the council by 37 votes in favour to four against, with six abstentions.
Those voting against included Russia and China, who have resisted moves for a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, for fear it could lead to a military intervention such as the one in Libya.
The resolution demands the suspension of security forces suspected of violations and the release of prisoners of conscience.
However, some human rights groups are disappointed the council did not make a clearer call for referring Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), as Ms Pillay had wanted.
A report for the UN earlier this week said security forces had committed crimes against humanity in Syria.
"The Syrian authorities' continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war," Ms Pillay warned.
"In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people," she told the council.
SMs Pillay said at least 4,000 people had been killed, including 307 children, and tens of thousands arrested in the unrest.
Correspondents say there is unusual unity among council member states, with Arab nations, Europe and the US all backing pressure on Mr Assad.
However, the Russian ambassador echoed the stance of the Syrian government, which maintains the protests are organised by armed criminal gangs.
"We hear that the conflict in Syria continues to be fuelled by outside forces, armed and terrorist groups being organised and supplied with weapons and money from abroad," Russian Ambassador Valery Loshchinin told the council.
Meanwhile, there has been no let-up in anti-government demonstrations in Syria, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from neighbouring Lebanon.
Protesters - who regularly take to the streets after Friday prayers - have dubbed the latest protest "the Friday of the no-fly zone", a reference to the safe haven they hope the outside world will impose. Activists say at least six people have died.
Heavy shooting was reported near the border with Lebanon in the town of Talkalakh. Activists said at least two people were wounded on the Lebanese side of the border, including an 11-year-old girl.
Seven soldiers were also killed, after army defectors attacked an intelligence base in Idlib, a spokesman for the group told the BBC.
In Damascus, meanwhile, thousands of loyalists held rallies in support of Mr Assad, our correspondent reports.
Impact on oil
Continue reading the main story
Human Rights Council findings
Security forces guilty of systematic human rights violations
Soldiers were ordered to "shoot to kill" unarmed demonstrators
Pattern of summary killings, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances
Extensive practice of torture indicates state-sanctioned policy
Men and boys sexually abused at military facilities
At least 250 children killed by security forces, at least two of them as a result of torture
Earlier, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the authorities were tightening security for Syrian opposition leaders based there, because of threats.
Members of the opposition Syrian National Council, including its leader, Burhan Ghalioun, are based in Paris.
On Thursday, the European Union tightened sanctions against Mr Assad's government, placing bans on exporting gas and oil industry equipment to Syria and trading in Syrian government bonds.
It also expanded a list of companies and individuals which face assets freezes and travel bans.
Royal Dutch Shell said it would stop its oil operations in Syria to comply with the EU sanctions. Shell is a minority partner in Syria's state-owned Al Furat Petroleum Company, which has been added to the sanctions list.
However, French oil company Total is to continue oil production in Syria for now, as its Syrian joint venture partner is not on the sanctions list.
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