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Syria: Ban enters veto-power wrangle at UN

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has cut short a Europe visit to convene five-power talks as the US plans reprisals for an alleged Syrian gas attack. France says it too wants punitive action despite the "no" in Britain's parliament.

UN headquarters said its chief Ban Ki-moon would meet Security Council veto-power ambassadors on Friday amid the crisis over suspected Syrian chemical weapons usage. In Washington the Obama administration continued planning for possible US-led military strikes.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban intended to "engage" with the council's five powers, with Britain, France and the United States opposed by China and Russia on whether to blame the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and exert sanctions in the form of military reprisals.

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UN inspectors are due to leave Syria on Saturday after examining a Damascus district where hundreds of people were killed on 21 August in a suspected attack involving internationally outlawed chemical weapons.

The office of US Secretary of State John Kerry said he would issue a statement on the situation in Syria on Friday. At the White House, President Barack Obama held further talks with senior national security advisers.

Obama has accused the Assad regime of perpetrating the attack but has yet to present definitive proof.

France's Hollande 'ready'

After British parliamentarians voted on Thursday against Prime Minister David Cameron's call that Britain join the US in possible action, France said on Friday it still backed a military reaction against the Assad regime.

French President Francois Hollande told the newspaper Le Monde on Friday that he supported "firm" punitive action over the alleged Syrian gas attack, adding that France had a "stack of evidence."

"There are few countries that have the capacity to inflict a sanction by the appropriate means. France is one of them. We are ready. We will decide our position in close liaison with our allies," Hollande said.

Russia: scenario 'dangerous'

Russia, Assad's ally, which has previously used its veto-powers at the UN, said on Friday that the British parliament's "no" had set back US-led plans.

Yuri Ushakov, a senior foreign policy adviser to President Vladimir Putin, said: "People are beginning to understand how dangerous such scenarios are.

"Russia is actively working to avert a military scenario in Syria," Ushakov said.

US officials have already suggested that Obama could decide to order military air strikes even without UN or allied support.

After Thurday's British vote, the White House said Obama believed there were "core interests at stake" for the United States and that "countries which violated international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable."

The Assad regime has denied any involvement and blamed the apparent gas attacks on rebels involved in Syria's two-and-a-half year conflagration.

Syrian state television on Friday said Syria's foreign minister, Walid Muallem, has told UN chief Ban by phone that Damascus would "refuse any partial report" before analysis of the inspectors' samples was completed.

The Swedish technology publication Ny Teknik said analysis of samples from Damascus would be done in certified laboratories in Sweden and Finland.

ipj/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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