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UN resolution on Syria fails, Turkish pressure looms

United Nations, October 5, 2011

Russia and China have handed President Bashar Al-Assad a diplomatic victory by vetoing a European-drafted UN Security Council resolution against Syria, after six months of a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Pressure, however, loomed from Syria's powerful neighbour Turkey, which has given refuge to a Syrian colonel who has joined the revolt, in a move that may heighten tensions between Damascus and Ankara.

"This veto will not stop us. No veto can give carte blanche to the Syrian authorities," French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud told the 15-nation council on Tuesday.

The United Nations resolution, which had hinted that Damascus could face sanctions at a later stage, received nine votes in favour and four abstentions. US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington was outraged and that it was time for the Security Council to adopt "tough targeted sanctions" on Damascus.

Assad had managed to manoeuvre Syria into being courted by the West while maintaining an alliance with Iran and backing militant groups, but the crackdown -- he has sent tanks and troops into towns and cities across the country to crush demonstrations -- have left him with few stalwart allies. 

The Syrian economy is reeling from US and European Union sanction on the small but key oil sector, which is linked to the Assad family and ruling elites.

Foreign currency reserves are under pressure, forcing the state last month to impose a sweeping ban on imports in a effort to maintain the reserves. But the ban was rescinded on Tuesday, after a spike in prices and disquiet among an influential merchant class that has been backing Assad.

Russia and China, which have major oil concessions in Syria and do not want to see Western influence in the Middle East spread, cast the only votes against the UN resolution.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council that Moscow was firmly opposed to the threat of sanctions against Damascus, reiterating concerns that passing the European resolution on Syria could have opened the door to a Libya-style military intervention.

At least 2,700 civilians have been killed in Syria, by a United Nations count. Assad has said any other country would have responded to the uprising by using similar tactics. 

Turkey's Anatolian news agency quoted Colonel Riad al-Asaad, the most senior Syrian officer to defect to the opposition since the popular revolt erupted in March, as saying he was safe in Turkey.

The agency's report was datelined Hatay in southern Turkey, where 7,000 Syrians have fled to escape Assad's crackdown on protesters.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who has predicted the Syrian people will "sooner or later" overthrow Assad, his former friend, said he would unveil plans for sanctions against Syria after he visits Syrian refugees in Hatay in the next few days.

Turkey also announced a nine-day military exercise in Hatay, starting on Wednesday. Syrian opposition groups meeting in Istanbul on Sunday appealed for international action to stop what they called indiscriminate killings of civilians by the Syrian authorities, but rejected any Libya-style military intervention. - Reuters




Tags: UN | Syria | Security Council | assad | pressure |

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