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Russia slams 'blackmail' over Syria

Russia has accused the west of using blackmail to secure a new UN Security Council resolution that would authorise the use of force in Syria.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said threats to discontinue the 300-strong UN unarmed observer mission to Syria if Russia does not agree to allow the west to use force in the country amounts to blackmail.

The UN authorised the 90-day mission to oversee the cessation of violence and monitor implementation of the UN peace plan.

The team, whose mandate expires on July 20, had to withdraw from key conflict areas because of escalating violence.

Russia said last week it will oppose any new UN resolution on Syria that would include the use of force. Mr Lavrov's comments come ahead of a meeting with Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League envoy for Syria whose plan for halting the fighting is weakening amid escalating violence.

The council is debating a new resolution on Syria, spurred on by the July 20 expiry date of the mandate for the UN observer force there and the consequent failure of the Annan plan.

Russia and Britain have circulated rival texts. The Western-backed British draft threatens non-military sanctions against president Bashar Assad's government if it does not withdraw troops and heavy weapons from population centres within 10 days. The proposed resolution is under the UN Charter's Chapter 7, which can be enforced militarily.

Throughout the 16-month Syrian crisis, in which activists say some 17,000 people have been killed in fighting between Mr Assad's forces and opposition groupings, Russia has opposed international military intervention, fearing a repeat of the type of international action that helped drive Libya's Muammar Gaddafi out of power.

Russia has rejected intense criticism of its position, saying it does not overtly support Mr Assad, Russia's longtime ally, and by strongly backing Kofi Annan's plan.

Moscow also said any change of power in Syria must be achieved through negotiation, but the Syrian opposition has repeatedly said no negotiations with the Assad regime are possible unless he first leaves power.

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