LONDON - Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or quit, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday, in the toughest language Britain has used during 12 weeks of protests in Syria.

Hague said Britain was trying to win support at the United Nations for a Security Council resolution condemning repression in Syria and exploring the potential for further European Union sanctions on Syria if the violence continued.

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"President Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or step aside," Hague told parliament.

Until now, in contrast with Libya where Britain is demanding that leader Muammar Gaddafi leave power, Britain has condemned the crackdown in Syria while calling for Assad to reform.

The change in tone is in line with the language used by US President Barack Obama who said last month that Assad could lead a transition to democracy or "get out of the way".

Hague said some Arab nations were encouraging Assad to reform, "although it may be too late for that now".

Syrian troops with tanks moved on Tuesday toward a town where the government has vowed to quell a revolt after accusing gunmen of killing scores of security men.

Rights groups say security forces, troops and gunmen loyal to Assad have killed 1,100 civilians since protests erupted in the southern city of Deraa on March 18.

Hague said Syrian authorities were using live fire against protesters and blocking UN efforts to get help to people.

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution condemning Syria which was circulated to its 15 members by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal last month.

Veto powers Russia and China dislike the idea of council involvement in what they see as a domestic issue. "We are working to persuade other countries that the Security Council has a responsibility to speak out," Hague said.

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