Sarkozy: 'Syrians have the right to democracy too'
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday the Syrian people "have the right to democracy too" following a meeting with a leader of the Libyan rebel movement that toppled Moamer Kadhafi's regime.
"Syrians have the right to democracy too, and they are not condemned to being suppressed by a regime that does not understand we are living in a new century," Sarkozy said, while nevertheless ruling out military intervention.
The French leader was speaking after talks with Mahmud Jibril, prime minister of the National Transitional Council, the rebel movement that overthrew Kadhafi's Libyan regime with the aid of NATO airstrikes.
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is facing a similar pro-democracy revolt, but his opposition is largely unarmed and he has so far been more successful than Kadhafi in carrying out a brutal crackdown on the streets.
"Let's be clear, France will not intervene without an international mandate, that's the baseline," Sarkozy said.
"But that does not mean we should leave the Syrian people to be massacred by a regime that loses legitimacy day-by-day," he said, adding that France has submitted a draft resolution on new sanctions to the UN Security Council.
The draft targets Assad and his inner circle with economic measures, but has so far not won the approval of veto-wielders China and Russia.
"With our American, British and German allies we have called for President Bashar al-Assad to go. We've done everything we can to return the Syrian regime to respectable society," he said.
Prior to this year's revolt and crackdown, France had been wooing Syria, and Sarkozy braved criticism of Assad's rights record to invite him to Paris in 2008 for the founding of the Mediterranean Union.
Now, he said: "The regime is condemned because today, in the 21st century, everyone must understand that dictators can no longer count on international indifference.
"Everyone can see what's happening: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, democratic elections in Africa, notably Ivory Coast," Sarkozy said, citing a former colony in which French military intervention helped unseat a strongman.
"We have made a strategic choice ... that we will support the Arab street every time the Arab street demands democracy and freedom. It's not about starting conflicts, but we will not abandon these principles."
© 2011 AFP