Middle East

Syria opposition fails to convince Russia over Assad

Burhan Ghalioun speaks in Moscow. Photo: 15 November 2011
Image caption Burhan Ghalioun has ruled out engaging in talks with President Bashar al-Assad

Syria's opposition leader says he has failed to convince Russia to back calls for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad over his violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

Burhan Ghalioun, who the heads Syrian National Council, was speaking after talks with Russian diplomats in Moscow.

The Kremlin again urged the Syrian opposition to immediately start a dialogue with Mr Assad's government.

More than 70 people were reportedly killed in clashes in Syria on Monday.

On Sunday, a 14-year-old boy was shot dead after he refused to join a pro-government meeting, activists say.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Mohammed Mlaessa was shot in the chest and head.

Such claims are impossible to verify as the Syrian government has severely restricted access for foreign journalists.

The UN says more than 3,500 people have died since the start of the protests in March. The Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs and militants.

'Intervention unacceptable'

The Kremlin recently blocked condemnation of Syria in the UN Security Council, and has also criticised Saturday's Arab League's decision to suspend Syria's membership in the regional organisation.

After the talks in Moscow, Mr Ghalioun said: "We were unable to change the position of the Russian government, and they also could not change our position."

The Paris-based SNC chairman also revealed he had told the meeting that President Assad's regime felt protected by the Russian government.

He stressed that the opposition would not talk to the president or his family, whom he accused of being responsible for the continuing bloodshed in Syria.

The SNC, a coalition of seven Syrian opposition factions, formed last month with the aim of offering a credible alternative to Mr Assad's regime.

At Tuesday's talks, the Russians restated Moscow's firm position that a dialogue between the coalition and the Syrian government was vital to end the violence.

In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry also said that any outside military intervention was "unacceptable".

Syria has described its suspension from the Arab League as an illegal move, vowing to overcome "conspiracies" against Damascus.

Adding to international pressure on Damascus, Jordan's King Abdullah on Monday became the first Arab leader to openly urge Mr Assad to step down.

And on Tuesday, Turkey announced that it was suspending joint oil exploration with Syria, as relations between the two neighbours strained further over the crackdown.

Sanctions tightened

In the latest violence in Syria, 27 civilians were shot dead by security forces in the flashpoint southern province of Deraa on Monday, the Syrian Observatory said.

In the same area, 34 government soldiers died in clashes with suspected army defectors, the Observatory said. It added that 12 deserters were also killed.

Another four civilians were killed in the central city of Homs, activists said.

Many Western powers have urged Mr Assad to stand down. Both the EU and the US have said he has lost legitimacy but have ruled out military intervention.

On Monday, the European Union tightened its sanctions on Syria.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels added 18 Syrian officials to a list of people affected by a travel ban and asset freeze. This brings to 74 the number of Mr Assad's inner circle who have been blacklisted.

The ministers also approved the freezing of loans to Syria from the European Investment Bank.

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