Russian MPs seek to broker Syria talks
A group of Russian lawmakers arrived in Damascus Saturday to meet Moscow ally President Bashar al-Assad and opposition figures in a bid to broker talks aimed at ending violence in the country, news agencies reported.
"Russia cares about the fate of the Syrian people. That's why we want to find a way to stop a negative scenario developing," Russia's Interfax quoted Ilyas Uumakhanov, vice president of the Russian upper house, as saying.
"Russia is against any external interference in Syria's domestic problems and is ready to assist where it can with internal political dialogue, which should take place in a peaceful atmosphere, without victims," he said.
"We intend to asses the situation, lead the consultations with the different political forces," he added.
Syria's SANA news agency said the group began a four-day visit to meet "independent politicians and the opposition."
No date was given for the meeting with Assad, and it was not clear which opposition forces the delegation intended to meet.
Russia has continued to support the Syrian regime despite its crackdown on protests that the United Nations estimates to have killed around 2,600 people.
The Russians arrived a day after security forces in Syria shot dead at least 22 people in operations across the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as pressure mounted on the regime to end the crackdown.
Moscow has refused to support Western sanctions against Assad and argued that equal pressure should also be placed on the protesters who refuse to engage Assad in direct talks.
President Dmitry Medvedev has said that some of those taking part in the Syrian demonstration had links to "terrorists."
© 2011 AFP