US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the Syrian government on Tuesday for the harsh way it had responded to pro-democracy protests.

"In a series of side meetings I also had the chance to discuss a number of issues, including Syria," Clinton said after a London meeting of international powers on Libya. "I expressed our strong condemnation of the Syrian government's brutal repression of demonstrators, in particular the violence and killing of civilians in the hands of security forces," she added.

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepted the resignation of the government on Tuesday, Syrian state television said. "President Assad accepts the government's resignation," an announcement on state television said.

Tens of thousands of Syrians held pro-government rallies as Assad was expected to address the nation after two weeks of democracy protests in which at least 60 people have been killed.

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Assad, who has been facing the gravest challenge to his 11-year rule after protests in the South spread to many parts of the country, could announce a lifting of Syria's decades-old emergency laws.

Protesters at first had restricted their demands to more freedom, but incensed by security forces' crackdown on them, especially in Deraa where protests first erupted, they have been calling for the "downfall of the regime".

Syrian state television showed people in the Syrian capital Damascus, Aleppo and Hasaka, waving pictures of Assad and chanting "God, Syria, Bashar".

"Breaking News: the conspiracy has failed" declared one banner, echoing government accusations that foreign elements and armed gangs were behind the unrest.

"With our blood and our souls we protect our national unity," another said.

Employees and members of unions controlled by Assad's Baath Party, which has been in power for nearly 50 years, said they had been ordered to attend the rallies, where there was a heavy presence of security police.

All gatherings and demonstrations are banned in Syria, other than those sponsored by the government.

Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Shara said on Monday the 45-year-old president would give a speech in the next 48 hours that would "assure the people".

Presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban has said Assad had taken the decision to lift emergency law, but gave no timetable. Arab media reports said Assad was likely to sack the current cabinet.

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