Middle East

Russia's Lavrov condemns EU oil sanctions on Syria

Mobile phone photo published by the Shaam News Network of anti-Assad protesters holding a banner during a demonstration against the Syrian regime, at Kfar Nebel, in Idlib province, Syria, on 2 September 2011
Image caption At least 14 people were reportedly killed on Friday as protesters again came out in force across the country

Russia has condemned the EU's move to step up sanctions on Syria by banning imports of its oil, amid ongoing protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the sanctions would "lead to nothing good".

Oil accounts for about 25% of Syria's income and EU member states take about 95% of its oil exports.

At least 14 people were reportedly killed on Friday as protesters again came out in force across the country.

Activists said seven had died in suburbs of the capital Damascus, four in the central city of Homs, and another three in Deir al-Zour in the east.

The United Nations says more than 2,200 people have been killed since pro-democracy demonstrations began in mid-March.

'Appalling'

Russia, which has a veto on the Security Council, refuses to back a resolution imposing an arms embargo or asset freeze.

"We are against unilateral sanctions," Reuters quoted Mr Lavrov as saying, on the sidelines of a summit of ex-Soviet states in the Tajik capital Dushanbe. "This ruins the partnership approach to any crisis."

The EU's ban of Syrian oil imports was announced on Friday and is due to come into effect immediately, with the exception of Italy, which has been granted a short-term exemption.

The ban was aimed at increasing pressure on the Syrian regime over its crackdown against anti-government protest, said a UK official.

The EU also added four more Syrian officials and three Syrian groups to its list of those affected by an EU travel ban and asset freeze.

"The violence must stop and he needs to step aside."

The US has already banned the import of Syrian oil, condemning the Syrian crackdown and calling on Mr Assad to step down.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe meanwhile said his country would increase contact with Syrian opposition figures.

Last month, dissidents set up a "Transitional National Council" to co-ordinate the campaign against President Assad, following the example of the rebels in Libya. Burhan Ghalioun, a professor of political sociology at the University of Paris III, was appointed chairman.

Anti-government protests again broke out in various towns and cities after Friday prayers, with activists reporting that security forces opened fire on demonstrations in the provinces of Idlib and Deraa, in suburbs of Damascus, in Aleppo and in the central city of Hama.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian forces had surrounded a number of mosques in protest hotspots, including Deraa and the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), said there had been a mass demonstration in Hama outside the home of Adnan Bakkour, to support the Hama attorney-general's decision to resign in protest at the killing of protesters.

The LCC reported another big protest in the northern city of Amuda, against Russian arms sales to Syria.

Syrian state television has denied most reports of protests, calling them "imaginary", although it said security forces had killed "two members of armed groups" in Talbisseh.

Access to Syria has been severely restricted for international journalists and it is rarely possible to verify accounts by witnesses and activists.

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