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Assad's wife added to undesirables

The British-born wife of Syria's leader has been added to a European Union (EU) list of undesirables banned from travel to Europe.

Europe's foreign ministers put Asma al-Assad, 36, married to president Bashar al-Assad, on a register of more than 100 members of the ruling regime which already includes her husband. As well as a European travel ban, they all face the freezing of their financial assets held in Europe.

But because the president's wife was born in the EU, there was still confusion after the decision about whether she could legally be denied access to her own country of origin.

The decision to add Mrs Assad, and about a dozen others to the existing list of those facing sanctions, was nodded through at talks in Brussels which included Foreign Secretary William Hague. As well as the travel visa and asset bans, EU sanctions against Syria already include an arms embargo and a ban on EU exports of oil and gas equipment.

The measures - the thirteenth round of EU sanctions against Syria - reflect anger at Mrs Assad's declaration in a letter to The Times earlier this year that her husband remained the right man to run Syria.

Since then the previously low-profile presidential wife, originally from west London, has been spotlighted as continuing to enjoy the high life despite the assault on entire communities in Syria which has resulted in thousands of deaths.

Mr Hague has vowed to continue working with the rest of the EU and the Arab League in efforts to end the violence and steer a Syrian-led transition to "a peaceful and more open political system."

Speaking to the BBC as he arrived for a meeting in Brussels, Mr Hague said: "It is very important to increase the pressure on the Syrian regime. Their behaviour continues to be murdering and totally unacceptable in the eyes of the world.

"It is very good and strong that the UN Security Council has spoken in a united way and it is important that the EU adds to that pressure on the regime with sanctions, which I hope will cover not only members of the regime but people associated closely with the regime. It is important that we tighten the economic and diplomatic stranglehold on them. As to who is on that list, you will have to wait for the outcome of our meeting."

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has adopted a resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria and extending the mandate of the international Commission of Inquiry to ensure that those responsible can be held to account. The resolution, tabled by the EU, was backed 41-3, with only Russia, China and Cuba voting against.

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