UN, European capitals seek end to Syria violence

Updated: 2011-04-27 21:41


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GENEVA - European capitals summoned Syrian ambassadors Wednesday to demand that President Bashar Assad stop gunning down his people and the UN's top human rights body prepared to reinforce that warning in a rare emergency session.

France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain told Syrian ambassadors in a coordinated effort that they condemned the recent violence in the Middle Eastern country and that Assad must change his ways, France's foreign ministry said.

The ministry said France expressed its "firm condemnation of the escalation of the repression by Syrian authorities against the population" and called on Syria to respect its international obligations on human rights.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Council based at the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva agreed to a US request for a special session Friday focused on Syria. It is unusual for the UN's 47-nation council to agree to such a request singling out the behavior of one nation.

The EU's political and security committee was also planning to discuss Syria on Friday in Brussels and "all options are on the table," Michael Mann, a spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said.

US officials have said Washington has begun drawing up targeted sanctions against him, his family and his inner circle to boost pressure on them to halt the repression. Four European countries - Britain, France, Germany and Portugal - have circulated a draft media statement to the UN Security Council condemning the violence in Syria. The council will discuss the statement Wednesday.

The relentless government crackdown against pro-democracy protesters has killed more than 400 people across Syria since mid-March, with 120 dead over the weekend, according to the UN Security forces have conducted sweeping arrests and raids across the country.

The UN's top human rights official, Navi Pillay, has appealed to Assad to withdraw his forces and is preparing to visit Syria and independently assess the situation on the ground.

Britain's top diplomat insisted Wednesday it isn't too late for Assad to embrace democratic reforms, despite his violent crackdown on protesters. But Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC radio that Assad may not command enough power to convince other members of his inner circle of the need for changes.

"One of the difficulties in Syria," said Hague, who visited Syria in January for talks, "is that President Assad's power depends on a wide group of people in his own family and, of course, other members of his own government."

In Berlin, Germany sharply condemned the "brutal crackdown" on opposition forces in Syria and called on Assad "to speak with his people instead of shooting them."

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday that Germany had welcomed the recent promise of more political freedoms in Syria, but noted "such promises do not help unless they are followed by actions."

Despite the Human Rights Council's meeting Friday, Syria is a candidate for admittance - and will gain entry as one of four candidates selected to fill four Asian seats unless another candidate enters the race or it fails to win a majority of votes in the May 20 secret ballot election in the 192-member General Assembly in New York.

Seibert underlined that Germany would not support a candidacy in the Geneva-based council.


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