Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama called Thursday for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to step down -- significantly ratcheting up international pressure against a regime that has been criticized for its harsh crackdown against anti-government protesters in recent months.
"The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way," Obama said in a written statement. "We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside."