WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama told Syria on Friday that its bloody crackdown on protesters "must come to an end now" and accused Damascus of seeking Iranian help to repress its people.

Obama issued a toughly worded statement on a day when Syrian security forces shot to death almost 90 protesters in the bloodiest day in a month of escalating demonstrations against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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Obama condemned the violence but did not refer to any potential US consequences should Assad refuse to heed his demands.

US forces are already assisting a NATO military campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and Americans are cautious about further military involvement in a region where US troops have fought long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now," Obama said.

Obama dismissed as "not serious" Assad's lifting of a decades-old emergency law in Syria this week and accused him of seeking help from Iran.

"Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies," he said.

The United States has responded in different ways to the uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. In Egypt, Obama maintained a policy of peaceful pressure on Hosni Mubarak to transfer power, while in Libya he joined a NATO air campaign to protect Libyan civilians.

In the case of Syria, Obama has sought to maintain pressure on Syria's government to respond positively to the uprising, to little avail at this juncture.

"We strongly oppose the Syrian government's treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups," Obama said.

He said the United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that "all human beings deserve, in Syria and around the world."

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