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EU imposes travel ban on Assad wife

EU foreign ministers have slapped sanctions on the wife and other close relatives of Syrian President Bashar Assad, freezing their assets and banning them from travelling to the EU.

The move is part of a continuing attempt to stop the violent crackdown on opponents of the regime.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said the joint UN-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, would travel to Russia and China for more talks aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis in Syria.

The UN estimates that more than 8,000 people have been killed since an uprising began in Syria a year ago.

Four members of the Assad family and eight government ministers have been targeted by the EU - the bloc's 13th round of sanctions so far against the Syrian regime - officials said.

Asma Assad, 36, the president's wife, was born in London and has British citizenship, and an EU official said that likely meant she could not be banned from travel to the UK.

Meanwhile, Annan and two aides will go to Moscow and Beijing to press the case for his six-point plan, his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said. Western countries have pushed for UN Security Council action, but Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions criticising Assad's regime.

"Negotiations are at a very delicate stage. He's not going to mediate through the media," Fawzi said. "The crisis on the ground is severe. We have to make progress on the ground soon. Every minute counts."

Fawzi told reporters that Annan's team is "currently studying the Syrian responses carefully and negotiations with Damascus continue".

On Wednesday, the UN's Security Council issued a non-binding statement calling for a ceasefire and endorsing Annan's plan, which includes continued talks and a daily two-hour halt in the fighting to provide aid.

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