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Russia and China block Syria action

The United Nations Security Council has failed again to take decisive action to stop the escalating violence in Syria as Russia and China blocked a resolution backing an Arab League plan for President Bashar Assad to step down.

The double-veto outraged the US and European council members who feared it would embolden the Assad regime.

British UN ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant said the UK was "appalled" by the double veto, but would continue efforts to get the security council to take action. "Despite this veto, we will continue as the United Kingdom to strongly support the Arab League plan and we will bring this issue back to the security council if the Syrian regime does not end the bloodshed and implement the plan as has been demanded," he said.

In an unusual weekend session, 13 members of the council, including the United States, Britain and France, voted in favour of the resolution aimed at stopping the brutal crackdown in Syria that has killed thousands of people since anti-government protests erupted a year ago.

It was the second time in four months that Russia and China used their veto power to block a security council resolution condemning the violence in Syria. Damascus has been a key Russian ally since Soviet times and Moscow has opposed any UN call that could be interpreted as advocating military intervention or regime change.

The rare double-veto was issued following days of top-level negotiations aimed at overcoming Russian opposition to the draft resolution. In a true display of diplomatic brinkmanship, the US, European nations and the Arab League called Russia's bluff on its threats to block the measure despite its overwhelming support. Moscow went ahead and used its veto, bringing Beijing along in support.

Several European envoys said before the session that they felt compelled to call for the vote despite Russia's attempts to seek a delay because they were concerned about the latest outbreak of violence in Syria.

The urgency was heightened by Saturday's assault by Syrian forces firing mortars and artillery on the city of Homs. Activists said more than 200 people were killed in what they called the bloodiest episode of the nearly 11-month-old uprising against Assad.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon expressed "deep regret" over the council's inability to reach consensus, calling it "a great disappointment to the people of Syria and the Middle East, and to all supporters of democracy and human rights", his spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that he was encouraged by statements about "the intention to continue diplomatic efforts" and noted that the security council is "not the only diplomatic tool on the planet". Chinese ambassador Li Baodong said his country joined Russia in vetoing the resolution because the proposed amendments were not taken into account.

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