′Friends of Syria′ increase pressure on President Assad | News | DW | 24.02.2012
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'Friends of Syria' increase pressure on President Assad

Diplomats from more than 50 countries have met in Tunisia to increase the pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end the violence in his country, as medical teams begin evacuating the sick and wounded from Homs.

World leaders who dubbed themselves the "Friends of Syria" called on Friday for an immediate halt to the violence plaguing the country and new sanctions on the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The group of Western and Arab diplomats and representatives of international bodies met in Tunisia on Friday to discuss ways to end the violence and grant access for humanitarian workers.

Diplomats also said they would soon take the step of granting recognition to the Syrian National Council (SNC) as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. SNC chief Burhan Ghalioun, however, said he was disappointed with the conference, which he said "does not meet the aspirations of the Syrian people."

Watch video 01:25

Syrian opposition conference discusses post-Assad Syria

The final resolution, passed at the end the meeting, called for an end to the Assad regime, but did not go as far as some Arab nations had hoped in calling for a United Nations civilian peacekeeping force in Syria after the end of the violence, which the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates has killed more than 7,600 people.

"The Assad regime has ignored every warning, squandered every opportunity and broken every agreement," said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "If the Assad regime refuses to allow this life-saving aid to reach civilians, it will have even more blood on its hands."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the world needed to do more to prevent the Syrian government from gaining "the means with which to perpetrate atrocities."

"We must seek ways and means of enforcing an arms embargo upon the regime," Davutoglu said.

Aid slowly reaches Homs

As diplomats met in Tunisia, the Syrian government continued its bombardment on the city of Homs on Friday. The Syrian activist group Local Coordination Committees said violence around the country killed 103 people, including 14 children and one woman. Death tolls have been difficult to independently verify because of Syria's restrictions on foreign journalists.

Watch video 01:09

German Foreign Minister Westerwelle's statement

In a small sign of early relief for Homs, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said it has begun to evacuate wounded or sick women and children from the hard-hit Baba Amro district of the city. International Committee of the Red Cross chief spokeswoman Carla Haddad said in Geneva that it was a "first step forward."

Russia and China, which vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on Assad to step aside, did not attend the conference.

"They (Russia and China) are setting themselves not only against the Syrian people but also the entire Arab Awakening," US Secretary of State Clinton said. "It's quite distressing to see permanent members of the Security Council using their veto when people are being murdered - women, children, brave young men - houses are being destroyed. It's just despicable."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would dispatch his predecessor, Kofi Annan, to Syria as an envoy representing the UN and Arab League. The UN said in a statement that Annan will "facilitate a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people through a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition."

US President Barack Obama, speaking in Washington after a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, said that Washington would "keep up the pressure and look for every tool available to prevent the slaughter of innocents in Syria."

"It's absolutely imperative for the international community to rally and send a clear message to President Assad that it is time for a transition," Obama said. "It is time for that regime to move on. And it is time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government."

acb,slk /msh (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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