PARIS - French President Francois Hollande called on Friday for stiffer sanctions against Syria's Bashar Assad and more support for rebels seeking to drive him from power at the start of a meeting of Western and Arab states who back the uprising.

"Bashar Assad must go," Hollande told a meeting of foreign ministers and senior diplomats from the "Friends of Syria" group. "It's in the interest of Syria, of its neighbors and everybody who wants peace in the region."

Hollande said he wanted the participants at the talks - who were cheered by reports of the defection of a senior Syrian general - to also agree to step up humanitarian aid to the country.

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