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UN urges Syria to back Annan plan

The previously divided UN Security Council has sent a united message to the Syrian government and opposition calling on them to immediately implement proposals by international envoy Kofi Annan to end the bloodshed.

A non-binding statement approved by the 15 council members and read at a formal meeting spells out Mr Annan's six proposals which include a ceasefire first by the Syrian government, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide humanitarian aid, and inclusive Syrian-led political talks "to address the legitimate concerns of the Syrian people".

Mr Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy, appealed to the Security Council last Friday for its backing, saying the stronger and more unified the message, the better the chances of shifting the dynamics of the conflict.

The UN estimates that well over 8,000 people have been killed over the past year.

Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the current council president, said the council statement sends "precisely the strong and united message to the Syrian government and all other actors in Syria that they need to respond, and respond quickly and immediately, to the six-point plan".

In a bid to win support from Russia and China, which have twice vetoed European and US-backed resolutions condemning President Bashar Assad's crackdown on protesters, France watered down the statement to eliminate possible consideration of "further measures" which could include sanctions or military action.

Instead, the presidential statement now asks Mr Annan to update the council regularly on the progress of his mission and says that "in the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate".

A presidential statement, which needs approval from all council members, becomes part of the council's permanent record. It is stronger than a press statement, which does not but unlike resolutions, neither statement is legally binding.

Russia and China had called the earlier resolutions unbalanced, saying they only blamed the Syrian government and demanded an end to government attacks, not ones by the opposition. Moscow also argued that the resolutions promoted regime change in Syria and expressed fear of outside intervention to support the rebels, as happened in Libya.

"The most important (thing) is that the document contains no ultimatums, threats or theses on who is to blame," Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said in Berlin, where he met his German counterpart.

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