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Friends of Syria plot economic course, ICRC meets Assad

Representatives of 50 countries are meeting in Berlin to discuss Syria's future economy after warfare ends in Syria. In Damascus, a top Red Cross official got President Assad's word that he will cooperate with the ICRC.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is hosting the talks, told the delegates at the start of the conference that any political transition in Syria must go hand-in-hand with improvements in the day-to-day lives of the people if it is to be successful.

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Friends of Syria in Berlin

Westerwelle called on members of the Syrian opposition movement represented at the conference to create conditions that would make it easier a for a transitional government to take power.

“There is no doubt that the days of the regime are numbered,” the foreign minister said. At the same time though, Westerwelle stressed that Syria needed a “credible alternative” to the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Germany along with the United Arab Emirates co-chairs a working group within the Friends of Syria meant to help the country kick-start a post-war economy.

Assad gives qualified support to ICRC

In Syria itself on Tuesday, the new head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, met with President Assad to discuss the humanitarian situation in the country.

Following their 45 minutes of talks, Syrian state television reported that Assad had pledged his qualified support for the ICRC's activities.

"President Assad assured the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross that he welcomed the humanitarian operations carried out by the committee on the ground in Syria, as long as it remains impartial and independent," the television report said.

The Red Cross described Tuesday's talks as positive.

"During the meeting with President Assad this morning, the ICRC president discussed issues related to the protection of the civilian population during the conduct of hostilities such as the importance of access to health care and basic necessities and also visits to persons detained in Syria," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency says more than 100,000 people fled Syria in August, making it the highest monthly total to date.

pfd/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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