Middle East

Russia 'cannot support' UN Syria draft resolution

Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin addresses Security Council meeting (31 Jan 2012)
Image caption Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin (at right), has described negotiations there as "a roller-coaster"

Russia's deputy foreign minister says his country "cannot support" a draft United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria.

According to the Interfax news agency, Gennady Gatilov said that despite changes that took some of its concerns into account, Russia could not support the text in its current form.

"This is not enough for us," he said.

The resolution, drafted by European and Arab countries, endorses an Arab League plan for Syria.

That league's plan calls on Mr Assad to hand over power to a deputy to oversee a political transition.

The watered-down UN text drops explicit calls for the president to step aside, which were included in an earlier draft.

However the document still "fully supports" what it calls the league's decision "to facilitate a political transition".

Western diplomats say this means that it still clearly backs the substance of the Arab plan.

It is not clear whether Mr Gatilov's comments mean that Moscow, which has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, would veto the resolution or abstain from voting.

Russia, a long-standing ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has opposed any suggestion that the resolution could be seen as backing for regime change in Damascus, and demanded guarantees that it would not lead to outside military intervention.

Moscow has continued to supply weapons to Syria despite the uprising there.

BBC UN correspondent Barbara Plett says a senior Western official there had expressed cautious optimism that Russia had received the assurances it wanted in order not to veto the resolution.

Negotiations between diplomats at the UN headquarters in New York over the past few days were described as "a roller-coaster" by Russia's ambassador, Vitaly Churkin.

Massacre anniversary

Image caption Protests against the Assad government have continued across Syria

In Syria itself, 18 people were killed in clashes across the country on Friday, according to activists.

Thousands of people demonstrated in Hama to mark 30 years since the country's worst massacre of recent times - when more than 10,000 people were killed in the city.

Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current leader Bashar, sent the troops there in 1982 to put down a revolt by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria has been convulsed by nationwide protests against Bashar al-Assad's regime for almost a year.

The United Nations stopped estimating the death toll from the uprising after it passed 5,400 in January, saying it was too difficult to confirm numbers.

The Syrian government says at least 2,000 members of its security forces have been killed combating "armed gangs and terrorists".

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