EU tightens ´stranglehold´ on Assad regime / Europe looks to new diplomatic and economic sanctions on Syria (INDEPENDENT UK) MATT CHORLEY 02/26/12)
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The EU is to freeze the financial assets of up to 10 senior figures
in President Bashar al-Assad´s regime as part of a rapid escalation
to tighten the "diplomatic and economic stranglehold" aimed at
bringing an end to the bloodshed in Syria. Foreign ministers will
tomorrow agree a fresh array of sanctions, including travel bans on
high-profile members of Mr Assad´s team, restraints on Syria´s
Central Bank, as well as restrictions on cargo flights and sales of
gold and diamonds.
Ahead of the latest round of diplomacy, Syrian forces continued to
attack their opponents. Up to 22 people were reported killed
yesterday during clashes across the country. The killings came as
officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
abandoned attempts to rescue people trapped by shelling in the Baba
Amr district of Homs. Those awaiting evacuation include the British
photographer Paul Conroy and French journalist Edith Bouvier who were
wounded last week. The bodies of the journalists Marie Colvin and
Remi Ochlik, killed at the same time, also remain there.
A spokesman said last night that negotiations "yielded no concrete
results" and talks would resume today. ICRC´s Hicham Hassan said the
Syrian Red Crescent was able to carry out evacuations elsewhere in
Syria, including in other parts of Homs.
The escalation of sanctions follows the Friends of Syria meeting last
Friday in Tunis which said countries would be "intensifying the
pressure on the regime to end the violence immediately". A British
diplomat said yesterday: "Working closely with our EU partners, we
have secured a further substantial package of sanctions which will
come into force the day after the Foreign Affairs Council meeting.
The package includes freezing the assets of the Central Bank of
Syria, the listing of additional senior individuals, as well as other
sanctions that will be announced on Monday."
The Treasury has already moved to freeze the assets of 108
individuals linked to the regime, and 38 organisations, including oil
firms, banks and manufacturers.
Tomorrow´s meeting, in Brussels, will be chaired by Baroness Ashton,
the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who has urged
ministers to "expand our restrictive measures".
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has called for "a diplomatic
and economic stranglehold on the Assad regime" to "choke off support
for its campaign of terror". He urged non-EU countries similarly to
step up actions. However, he has specifically ruled out arming the
Syrian rebels. "We have in the EU an arms embargo on Syria, so of
course we will observe that in all directions."
The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) also meets tomorrow to escalate
plans for Baroness Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian
Affairs, to travel to Syria and potentially hold talks with Mr Assad
aimed at ending the bloodshed.
Laura Dupuy Lasserre, the HRC president, has also accepted a request
delivered by Qatar for an urgent debate on Syria to take place on
Tuesday, "in light of the escalating grave human rights violations
and the deteriorating humanitarian situation".
Last week, a report commissioned by the HRC claimed Syria
had "manifestly failed" to protect its own people and drew up a list
identifying "those responsible, with a view to ensuring that
perpetrators of violations... are held accountable".
If Baroness Amos is blocked from visiting Syria, she is expected to
travel to Jordan, Lebanon and other countries in the region, in hope
of stepping up pressure from Syria´s neighbours.
Turkey´s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, yesterday accused Syria
of seeking to crush its opposition before reforming. "To fight on the
one hand with your people and then to claim that there is reform is
contradictory. That kind of logic unfortunately renders any kind of
reform meaningless," he said.
Syria will hold a referendum today on a new constitution. The charter
would allow a bigger role for those opposed to Mr Assad´s Baath
Party, which has controlled Syria since a 1963 coup. But leaders of
the uprising dismiss the move as "superficial".
China´s official Xinhua News Agency yesterday accused the US and
Europe of "harbouring hegemonistic ambitions" in Syria. Responding to
criticism of Beijing in Tunis, China insisted its position on Syria
was balanced and that "most of the Arab countries have begun to
realise that the US and Europe are hiding a dagger behind a smile".
Both China and Russia boycotted the Tunis conference, which urged
President Assad to end the violence immediately and allow
humanitarian aid into areas hit by his crackdown.
The UN estimated in January that 5,400 people had died in the
conflict. Now, activists say the death toll has reached more than
7,300. (©independent.co.uk 02/26/12)
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