France ups pressure on Russia over Syria

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 04, 2012 9:18 AM
France ups pressure on Russia over Syria

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - France raised the pressure on Russia on Saturday by warning that countries that blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria after activists said more than 200 people were killed in Homs would bear a "heavy responsibility in history."

The comments came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a draft U.N. resolution on Syria was "not hopeless," but needed amendments to avoid giving the impression the world body was taking sides.

"The international community must recognize and support the right of the Syrian people to freedom, security and the choice of its political future," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement that described the situation in Homs as "savagery."

"Those who block the adoption of such a resolution will bear a heavy responsibility in history."

Paris is pushing hard for the adoption of the resolution condemning the Syrian government's crackdown on 11 months of protests and backing an Arab League peace plan that would see power transfer from President Bashar al-Assad.

The resolution, which has already been watered down to try to win Moscow's backing, expresses "full support" for an Arab League plan that calls for Assad to cede power.

Russia, which is threatening to use its veto, has said its main objection is that the draft sets down measures to be taken against Assad's government, but not against armed groups who were manipulating peaceful protesters.

France has consistently said it could not accept a resolution that blamed equally the Syrian authorities and opposition for the violence which Juppe said has already seen 6,000 deaths.

The diplomatic maneuvers were made more urgent by reports from Syrian activists on Saturday that more than 200 people had been killed in shelling by government forces in the city of Homs.

Juppe condemned the events.

"Instead of stopping its policy of repression, the Syrian authorities have jumped a new hurdle in its savagery: the massacre in Homs is a crime against humanity and those responsible will have to answer for it," he said.

Britain also condemned the violence, with Foreign Secretary William Hague saying: "The Syrian regime's actions display President Assad's cold-blooded cynicism in the face of mounting international pressure for the U.N. Security Council to do its utmost to end the bloodshed in Syria."

Syria denied shelling the area and said Internet video of corpses was staged. It is not possible to verify activist or state media reports as Syria restricts independent media access.

Lavrov warned of a "scandal" if the Security Council voted on the current version at 1500 GMT (10 a.m. EST) on Saturday as scheduled.

Paris has been prominent in Western efforts to try to force Assad to end the crackdown on protests and has suggested a need to set up zones to protect civilians, the first proposal by a Western power for outside intervention on the ground.

Minor scuffles broke out at the Russian embassy in the French capital on Saturday during a pro-Assad demonstration.

About 20 supporters of the Syrian president were confronted by about 50 people against the government, according to a Reuters witness. Nobody was injured, but the police stepped in to make some arrests. An anti-Assad demonstration was also due to take place later on Saturday in central Paris.

(Additional reporting by Claire Watson; Editing by Alison Williams)