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Americas

Clinton, Hollande lash Russia, Syria at Paris Friends of Syria conference

media President François Hollande opens the Friends of the Syrian People conference … Reuters/Jacques Brinon/Pool

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid into Russia and China for failing to back attempts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at Friday’s Friends of Syria conference in Paris. French President François Hollande called for tougher UN sanctions and warned that repression is likely to increase in the country.

Clinton called on Russia and China to “get off the sidelines” and accused them of “standing up for” the Assad regime. She called on other countries to "make it clear that Russia and China will pay a price" for that support and on the UN Security Council to step up sanctions against Syria.

Opening the conference, Hollande called on the UN to take tougher action against Syria, warning that Bashar al-Assad’s regime has “no option but escalation” of repression.

He called on the conference to make five commitments:

  • An end to impunity for regime members;
  • Real and effective sanctions;
  • Increase in support to the opposition, including providing means of communication;
  • Humanitarian aid;
  • Aid for reconstruction once the conflict is over.

But, although Hollande boasted that this third conference is the biggest yet with about 100 countries represented, Russia and China have refused to attend, meaning that its decisions are unlikely to win the support of the UN Security Council.

The leader of one of Syria’s opposition factions, Abdel Basset Sayda of the Syrina National Council, called on the conference to provide an aerial exclusion zone and humanitarian corridors, as was done for Libya.

But at a meeting in Cairo this week the opposition was divided over calls for international military intervention.

THE BATTLE FOR LIBYA

The US and France are in favour of invoking Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which allows economic sanctions and, if necessary, military force.

Chapter 7 was used against Libya in 2011 and Russia and China subsequently claimed they were tricked into endorsing military action there.

They have called for negotiation between the Assad regime and the opposition to resolve the crisis, although the opposition insists that Assad must be driven out of power and claims that the escalation of repression makes the position unrealistic.

The US and most European countries have also called for Assad to go. But where?

France, the US and Russia all say they will not take him if he quits power, according to French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius.

Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed reports that Western powers asked Moscow to offer him asylum.

Russia thought it was a joke, he said.

France occupied Syria after the breakup of the Ottoman empire, finally pulling its troops out in 1946.

In latest news from Syria:

  • General Munaf Tlass, a member of Assad’s inner circle, has defected to Turkey, according to the Syriasteps website which is close the country’s security apparatus. Tlass is said to have fallen out of favour for refusing to fire on civilian areas.
  • Assad’s troops shelled the town Daraya Friday, killing at least one person, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights which claims that more than 90 people were killed on Thursday.
  • Demonstrations on Friday are set to call for a “People’s Liberation War”, according the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union.
     

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