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Russia blocks UN resolution calling for Assad to quit

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

A defiant Russia resisted pressure from the West and several Arab countries yesterday for a strong United Nations resolution demanding that President Bashar al-Assad steps aside to end the political violence in Syria.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, and several Arab ministers were in New York for a Security Council meeting as fighting between government troops and regime opponents worsened.

However, as negotiations on the final text continued, there was no sign that Moscow, Syria's most important ally, would consent to any wording that called on Mr Assad to go or that authorised military action. The draft resolution, which stipulates the Council discusses "further measures" if the Syrian leader does not comply within 15 days, was "a path to civil war", Gennady Gatilov, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, said.

At least 10 of the 15 Security Council members were supportive of demanding President Assad's departure, with China, India, Pakistan and South Africa broadly opposed.

But, diplomats said, the critical country was Russia, which has made clear it would veto any resolution it believed went too far.

Moscow's stubbornness reflects the determination of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to reassert Russia's role on the global stage.

Some countries were "obsessed" by regime change in the Middle East, Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister, said. He warned that "we are going to witness a very bad situation, much, much broader than just Syria, Libya or Egypt or any other single country" if that persisted.

The best hopes of a Security Council deal that would avoid a Russian veto lie with the plan drawn up by the Arab League, which froze its monitoring mission in Syria at the weekend because of violence.

Yesterday, Nabil al-Arab, the Arab League's chief, and Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the Prime Minister of Qatar, briefed the Council on the proposals, which call for President Assad to hand power to his vice-president, and the formation of a national unity government to prepare for democratic elections. (© Independent News Service)

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