Syria warns against outside interference, fingers France

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Syria strongly rejected on Tuesday any foreign intervention over its deadly crackdown on a pro-democracy revolt and singled out former colonial master France, which is pressing the UN Security Council to act.

"We can reach consensus despite opposing points of view," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told a Damascus press conference. "No one outside (Syria) can impose on us their point of view."

And while not directly accusing neighbouring Turkey of meddling, Muallem hinted that Ankara, which has called for democratic reforms in Syria and welcomed thousands of people fleeing violence in Syria, should "reconsider its position."

"We say to those in Europe who are criticising us that they should stop interfering in Syrian affairs and sowing trouble in order to apply plans contrary to Syrian national interests."

Muallem accused France of pursuing a "colonialist agenda under the guise of human rights" and said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe had colonial "illusions."

France, which ruled Syria for several years under a League of Nations mandate after World War I, is spearheading attempts to get the United Nations to speak out against Damascus's crackdown.

More than 1,300 civilians have been killed and some 10,000 people arrested, according to Syrian rights groups, in the crackdown that has seen troops dispatched to crush revolt in cities across the country.

"Mr Juppe is still living under the illusions of the French colonial era. He has no influence in Syrian affairs," the foreign minister said, adding that Juppe imagined he had the right to "confer legitimacy on this or that leader."

Western governments have been circulating a draft Security Council resolution condemning Assad's crackdown but Russia has warned it would veto such a move.

On Monday, Juppe said in Luxembourg that Assad had reached "a point of no return."

"Some believe there's still time for him to change his ways and commit to a (reform) process," he said. "For my part, I doubt it. I think that the point of no return has been reached."

Muallem also likened to "war" EU sanctions over the crackdown.

European ministers on Monday agreed to beef up sanctions on Assad as they cast doubt on his latest offers of change, some demanding he "reform or step aside."

European Union foreign ministers also angrily demanded action at the United Nations and slammed Russia's resistance to any such move.

Turning to Turkey, which has repeatedly criticised repression by the Assad regime, Muallem said, "We are keen on maintaining good relations with Turkey with which we share a common border of 850 kilometres (528 miles)."

"We don't want to wipe away years of efforts to establish privileged ties," he added. "I wish (Turkey) would reconsider its position."

His comments came as Turkey distanced itself from Syria over its brutal crackdown on the revolt, which has threatened the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Monday that Assad should have been more "clear-cut" in promises of reform that he made in a speech the same day.

"One must read between the lines in his speech. He should say loud and strong in a clear-cut manner: ... 'We are passing to a pluralist system, we will organise democratic elections that conform to international standards,'" Anatolia news agency quoted Gul as saying.

"As soon as the Syrian president says that he will lead the transition in his country, we will see that things will change," Gul added.

On Tuesday, Assad proclaimed a new general amnesty, a day after offering a "national dialogue" to end the deadly unrest and as a huge crowd rallied in Damascus in his support.

However, pro-democracy activists have rejected his overtures and vowed that the "revolution" would carry on, while the US State Department called for "action, not words."

Five people were killed in anti-government protests on Tuesday in the central city of Homs and in the northeastern province of Deir Ezzor, activists said.

In Damascus, meanwhile, security forces raided the university campus during a demonstration, beating students will truncheons and arresting more than 100 of them, activists said.

One student was said to have been seriously injured and int hospital.

On Wednesday, Muallem repeated Assad's call for dialogue.

"I say to those Syrians demanding change, come participate in the national dialogue and test the seriousness and will of the Syrian leadership."

At the same time, he told them not to "incite demonstrations and violence, which is useless and which only serves the enemies of Syria."

Muallem also denied Western allegations that Syria had received any assistance from ally Iran or Lebanon's militant group Hezbollah in putting down the protests.

© 2011 AFP

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