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UN assembly condemns Syria crackdown

Demonstrators march against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Homs November 21, 2011. Banners read “Freedom for detained students at Assad's prisons”. -Reuters Photo

UNITED NATIONS: A key UN General Assembly committee on Tuesday condemned the Syrian government's deadly crackdown on protests, stepping up international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.

A resolution passed by 122 votes to 13 with 41 abstentions at the UN General Assembly's human rights committee. Syria's UN envoy accused the European backers of the resolution, Britain, France and Germany, of “inciting civil war.”

The resolution “strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities,” highlighting the “arbitrary executions” and “persecution” of protesters and human rights defenders.

It joined international calls demanding a halt to the violence.

Russia and China last month vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Assad's crackdown since March, which the UN says has left more than 3,500 dead. The two abstained in the latest vote.

“The international community cannot remain silent,” said Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant in a debate on the resolution in which he stressed the Syrian government's failure to carry out an Arab League peace plan.

France's envoy, Gerard Araud, said that UN condemnation was now “urgent”.

“It is urgent because it is a situation that is deteriorating constantly,”Syria has “rejected” the Arab League plan and the number of victims is increasing, Araud told the meeting.

Arab nations Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Qatar were among more than 60 countries to co-sponsor the resolution which again called on the Syria government to halt the violence.

However, Syria's UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, accused the European nations of conducting a “political, diplomatic and media war”.

He said Britain, France and Germany were “part of the escalation of violence in my country” and were “propagating violent sedition” in Syria.

“How can you believe they are not interfering when they are inciting civil war?” said Jaafari, who was given support in speeches by Iranian, North Korean, Venezuelan and Cuban envoys.

“We will not let the former colonial powers interfere in our affairs again,” he said, indicating the Assad government would not change its policies.

After Russia and China vetoed the Security Council resolution last month, insisting it would be used as an excuse to carry out regime change, Western powers insisted they would return to the UN's supreme body to get condemnation.

The Arab League move to suspend Syria and order sanctions has strengthened the case for action by the Security Council, according to western diplomats.

Egypt, where new unrest is rocking the country, supported the resolution.

Saudi ambassador Abdullah al Mouallimi stressed the Arab League efforts to end the violence but pointed the finger at the Assad government when he said “obstacles have been put in place which impede these goals”.

He said the international community “must send a message to the Syrian people” with the resolution.

Russia and China abstained in the vote. But Russia defiantly opposes any condemnation in a formal resolution or any talk of sanctions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that outside support for Syria's opposition was creating more unrest throughout the region.

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