By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) - France said Saturday it was "extremely concerned" by the ongoing violence in Yemen and Syria but stressed its Middle East policy was not aimed at removing governments in the region.
Speaking at a conference in Paris, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France would stand firm against acts of excessive human rights abuses in the Arab world and use all means available to it to stop them, although he did not elaborate.
"(In) Yemen and Syria the situation is extremely worrying," Juppe said at the conference, entitled "The Arab Spring" that brought together French ambassadors to the Arab world, Arab ambassadors in France and academics.
"These countries must realize that there is no path other than dialogue that brings a clear answer to the aspirations of their people that need to express themselves with complete freedom," he said.
France has spearheaded the West's response to the crisis in Libya and also intervened in Ivory Coast last week at the United Nations' request to speed up the ouster of former strongman Laurent Gbagbo.
Juppe, who said Muammar Gaddafi staying in power was not compatible with the protection of Libyan civilians, insisted there was no ambiguity in French foreign policy and its objective was not to depose leaders.
"Our policy is not to lead to changes in regime," he said.
Protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad swept into the capital Damascus Friday for the first time since a growing wave of pro-democracy unrest began to put pressure on his 11-year rule. One protestor died from his wounds Friday.
Asked if there was a chance things could escalate in Syria, Juppe told reporters: "There is a risk. The only way to prevent it is to reform. There is a need to go further in Syria."
Juppe spoke before Assad announced plans to lift the country's emergency law.
Assad's use of force and mass arrests, mixed with promises for reform and concessions to minority groups and conservative Muslims, have not placated protesters inspired by the popular uprisings which toppled the leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
In Yemen, a defiant President Ali Abdullah Saleh denounced his opponents Friday as liars and bandits, while urging them to join peace talks that would see him hand over power.
"We will continue to be extremely firm toward excessive violations (of human rights) and depending on the seriousness of the situation, we will use all the means at our disposal to stop them," Juppe said.
He said options available to France included the use of sanctions and the recourse to force in extreme cases but with the backing of the United Nations Security Council like in Libya.
President Barack Obama acknowledged Friday the military situation on the ground in Libya had reached stalemate three weeks into the war, but said he still expects NATO allies to force Gaddafi from power eventually.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton and Sophie Hares)