US breaks with Assad, France seeks UN action

12th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

The United States said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has "lost legitimacy" four months into a deadly revolt against his rule, after the French and US embassies were targeted in angry pro-regime demonstrations.

Mobs besieged the US and French embassies on Monday after the ambassadors of the two Western countries last week travelled to the flashpoint protest city of Hama, north of the capital.

"President Assad is not indispensable and we have absolutely nothing invested in him ... remaining in power," Clinton said in the toughest US stand since the mid-March outbreak of a revolt against his rule.

"From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy. Our goal is to see that the will of the Syrian people for a democratic transformation occurs," she said.

Paris on Tuesday renewed its demand that the United Nations Security Council take a stance on the crisis in Syria.

"France and other European countries have submitted a proposed resolution to the UN Security Council, which has been blocked by Russia and China," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in a radio interview.

"This is no longer acceptable," he said, branding the attack on his government's Damascus embassy, in which three French personnel were wounded, "extremely violent" and warning that Assad's regime was losing its grip.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said: "Once again, we call on Syrian authorities to do their duty. All governments should ensure the security of embassies and diplomatic missions."

The foreign ministry said three French staff were injured in the attack, which forced guards to fire three warning shots, while Washington said no staff were hurt in a similar clash at its Damascus compound.

As Syrian security forces looked on, Assad supporters smashed their way into the French embassy compound with a battering ram, broke windows and destroyed the ambassador's car, according to a foreign ministry spokesman in Paris.

Last week, the French and US ambassadors to Syria made high-profile visits to the restive city of Hama in a gesture of support to the civilian victims of the violence. The regime reacted with fury, accusing the Western powers of fomenting unrest.

Syria's state news agency SANA said hundreds of people on Monday also held a sit-in in front of the French consulate in Aleppo, accusing Paris of "mobilising the international community" against Damascus.

At the US embassy, several demonstrators scaled the complex's high outer wall and others draped a large Syrian flag over the main entrance.

The chancery was not breached but some of the crowd of about 300 climbed up on the roof and reached ambassador Robert Ford's residence before being chased away by US marines, US officials said.

Windows were broken, cameras smashed, and walls spray-painted, they said.

Tensions have been escalating sharply between Damascus and Washington over the Syrian government's fierce response to pro-democracy protests. Activists say 1,300 civilians have been killed and 12,000 arrested since mid-March.

About 200 delegates took part in the first session of a "national dialogue" on Sunday proposed by Assad, including independent MPs and members of his Baath party which has been in power since 1963.

Opposition figures boycotted the gathering in protest at the continuing deadly crackdown by Assad's security forces.

On Tuesday, pro-democracy activists on their Facebook page said they opposed any Libya-style military intervention and called for greater economic and political pressure on the leadership in Damascus.

They also called for Assad to be referred to the International Criminal Court, on their Syrian Revolution 2011 page which has been an engine of the popular revolt.

© 2011 AFP

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