Middle East

Syria unrest: West deplores UN veto by Russia and China

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Media captionThe BBC's Paul Wood and cameraman Fred Scott were smuggled into Homs

Western nations have deplored the vetoing by Russia and China of a UN resolution condemning the crackdown in Syria on anti-government protests.

The US said the veto was "shameful", while Britain said it "lets the Syrian people down". France also condemned the block at the UN Security Council.

Russia and China said the proposed draft was "unbalanced".

The document was rejected just hours after activists accused Syrian troops of killing at least 55 people in Homs.

The BBC's Paul Wood, who entered the Syrian city with rebels after the vote, says gun and shell fire can be heard there.

On Sunday, opponents of the Syrian government ransacked the country's embassy in the Australian capital, Canberra.

Police said a group of at least 40 men smashed through the front door, broke some of the furniture and stole computers.

The attack follows a number of similar incidents at Syrian embassies in the Middle East and Europe.

'Disgusted'

American UN envoy Susan Rice described the veto on Saturday as "shameful", saying Russia and China aimed to "sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant".

"Any further bloodshed that flows will be on their hands," she said.

She later wrote on Twitter: "Disgusted that Russia and China prevented the UN Security Council from fulfilling its sole purpose."

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement that the approach by Moscow and Beijing "lets the Syrian people down, and will only encourage President [Bashar] Assad's brutal regime to increase the killing".

In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement that he "strongly deplores" the veto but promised to carry on seeking a solution.

Mohammed Loulichki, Morocco's ambassador to the UN and the sole Arab member of the current council, voiced "great regret and disappointment" that Moscow and Beijing had struck it down.

The Arab draft resolution had adopted an Arab League call for a "Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system".

However, Russia said it singled out the government and did not contain measures against armed opposition groups.

Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said the draft had lacked balance.

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Media captionUS envoy Susan Rice: "For months this council has been held hostage by a couple of members"

"Some influential members of the international community unfortunately... have been undermining the opportunity for political settlement, calling for a regime change, pushing the oppositionists to power," he said.

Beijing's UN ambassador Li Baodong said putting pressure on the Syrian government or "imposing a solution" would not help to resolve the issue.

Pro-Assad residents in the Syrian capital Damascus welcomed the Sino-Russian stance.

"I believe there are more important issues for the Security Council to take care of... such as the starvation in Somalia, and Gaza," one told BBC News.

'Hysterical campaign'

Early accounts of the casualties in Homs on Saturday talked of as many as 200 deaths, but one of the main activist groups later revised its confirmed toll down to 55.

The BBC's Paul Wood says he and his cameraman heard heavy machine-gun fire and explosions when they entered Homs on Saturday afternoon.

He says Homs appears to have come under a pretty relentless bombardment and parts of the city that oppose the regime have been cut off.

Homs was one of the first cities to join anti-Assad protests, and became one of the focal points of dissent after government forces fired on crowds in April last year. Many army defectors have sought refuge in the city.

State media dismissed the Homs casualty reports as a "hysterical campaign of incitement" by armed gangs designed to influence the UN.

International media outlets are restricted in Syria, making it difficult to verify the claims of either side.

Syria has been gripped by nationwide protests against Mr Assad's government for almost a year, in a struggle that has claimed at least 5,400 lives, according to the UN.

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