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‘West using blackmail over Syria’

Russia on Monday accused Western powers of using ‘blackmail’ to get its backing for possible UN Security Council sanctions against Syria over the regime’s crackdown on an armed opposition.

‘To our great regret, we are witnessing elements of blackmail,’ Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference over moves to end 16 months of violence that the opposition says has claimed more than 17,000 lives. ‘We are being told to either agree to the approval of a resolution that includes Chapter 7 [that provides for possible sanctions], or we refuse to extend the mandate of the observer mission.

‘We view this as a completely counterproductive and dangerous approach,’ Lavrov said ahead of talks later on Monday with UN-Arab League crisis envoy Kofi Annan. Lavrov also stressed that it was ‘unrealistic’ for Western powers to expect Russia to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down simply because Moscow is a long-standing ally of the Damascus regime. ‘We hear comments like the ‘key to a Syrian solution is to be found in Moscow’. Then it is explained to us, when we ask about this, that it means that we [Russia] have to convince Assad to step down of his own accord.’

But he said: ‘It is simply unrealistic. And it is not a question of our inclinations, our sympathies or our antipathies. ‘[Assad] will not leave power. And this is not because we are protecting him but because there is a very significant part of the Syrian population behind him,’ Lavrov said.


ACTIVISTS REPORT CLASHES IN BEIRUT


Activists say opposition fighters are clashing with Syrian government forces in the capital Damascus for a second day.

Activists and residents say the fighting in several neighborhoods is among the heaviest since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began in March last year.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syria-based activist Mustafa Osso say on Monday’s clashes concentrated in the districts of Kfar Souseh and Tadamon. A resident who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals says gunfire and sporadic explosions could be heard on Monday morning.

Damascus is tightly controlled by Assad’s forces, although there have been sporadic clashes in the capital in recent months.
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