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UN: Syrian uprising death toll passes 8,000

(CBS/AP) UNITED NATIONS - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says well over 8,000 people have died in Syria over the past year due to the government's violent repression of the uprising against President Bashar Assad.

The U.N. chief raised the death toll from 7,500 in a statement Thursday marking the first anniversary of the uprising.

Ban said the "brutal repression" by Syrian authorities is continuing unabated and called the status quo "indefensible."

Ban urged the government and opposition to cooperate with international envoy Kofi Annan to stop the bloodshed and find a political solution.

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Meanwhile, France's foreign minister has rejected weapons requests by the Syrian rebel forces, saying Thursday that arming the Syrian opposition could lead to catastrophic civil war.

The Syrian opposition is divided as it marks one year since its uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime.

Russia, a powerful ally of Syria's, is opposed to any new sanctions or international action in Syria but offered its support Thursday to former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan in his efforts to help end the violence.

Syrian rebel forces are asking for new weapons after defeats by government troops. But leading world powers such as the United States and France seem wary of getting embroiled in a new conflict after months of NATO-led airstrikes in Libya.

"The Syrian people are deeply divided, and if we give arms to a certain faction of the Syrian opposition, we would make a civil war among Christians, Alawites, Sunnis and Shiites," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on France-Culture radio Thursday.

France, Syria's former colonial ruler, is backing the opposition against Assad and pushing for Assad's departure. Juppe says arming the opposition could lead to "a catastrophe even larger than the one that exists today."

Many Syrian opposition members are in Paris but divisions have kept them from forming a single unified force that the international community is rallying behind.

Juppe's comments echoed those of President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday, who warned that an international response could lead to more deaths.

"Our natural instinct is to act," Obama said. "It's very important for us to make sure that we have thought through all of our actions before we take those steps."

After two significant defeats at the hands of Syrian government troops, the country's rebel forces are low on cash and running out of weapons.

"Send us money, we're desperate. Send us weapons," Ahmad Kassem, who coordinates military operations for the rebel Free Syrian Army, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "We don't need fighters. We have excess men who can fight, but we need weapons to protect our land and honor."

Russia, meanwhile, says it is continuing to supply weapons to Syria's government that could be used to fend off external threats — but not against protesters. Russia backs Assad's claim that the uprising is a foreign conspiracy and that weapons and militants have been brought into Syria from abroad.

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