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Syria hails ‘historic’ Russia, China vetoes

A senior aide to Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday hailed as “historic” Russian and Chinese vetoes of a UN resolution against his regime’s deadly crackdown on protests.

But Syria’s newly united opposition said that by voting against the European-proposed resolution at the UN Security Council, Russia and China risked provoking opponents of Assad’s regime to resort to violence.

The double veto was both condemned and lamented in Western capitals, with the United States saying it was “outraged” and France bemoaning it as a “sad day” for Syria’s people and the Security Council.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon regretted the council’s failure to reach consensus on the “unacceptable” violence in Syria, believing that “we have a moral obligation to prevent further bloodshed,” his spokesman said.

“This is a historical day that Russia and China as nations are standing for the people and against injustices,” Syria’s presidential adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, told AFP in Damascus.

“I think that all the Syrians are happy that now there are other powers in the world to stand against hegemony, against military interference in the affairs of countries and people.

“I feel that the veto that Russia and China have used… is a veto that stands with the Syrian people and gives the time for us to enforce and enhance reforms,” she added.

Nine countries voted late Tuesday in favour of the draft resolution which had called for “targeted measures” if Assad pursues his clampdown, which the UN says has left at least 2,700 people dead.

Russia and China voted against, killing the resolution because of their veto powers as council permanent members.

South Africa, India, Brazil and Lebanon abstained, reaffirming a divide in the 15-member body since NATO launched air strikes in Libya using UN resolutions to justify the action.

In Paris, the opposition Syrian National Council formed in Istanbul on Sunday uniting groups across the political spectrum warned the Russians “are truly encouraging violence.”

“Supporting Bashar al-Assad in his militarist and fascist project will not encourage the Syrian people to stick to a peaceful revolution,” SNC president Burhan Ghalioun told AFP.

“To avoid the slide towards violence, the international community needs to act differently and realise what are the risks and the dangers of this moment in history,” said Ghalioun.

“I think the international community has not yet lived up to its responsibilities,” the Paris-based academic said.

The resolution was drawn up by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “Those who blocked it (the resolution) will have this action on their conscience.”

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the move marked a “sad day for the Syrian people” and for the council itself, while vowing to keep supporting the “Syrian democrats’ struggle for freedom.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said despite the failure of the resolution, his government would press ahead with its own sanctions against Assad’s regime.

“(The veto) does not constitute an obstacle,” Erdogan said, adding that along with European nations, Turkey will “inevitably impose right now a package of sanctions.”

The UN chief’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said that Ban “regrets that the Security Council has not been able to agree and hopes that it will overcome its divisions and find a collective way to address the situation.”

“He believes we have a moral obligation to prevent further bloodshed and help the people of Syria out of this dangerous crisis.”

In New York, Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said the draft resolution was “based on a philosophy of confrontation,” and that the threat of action was “unacceptable.”

Many opponents raised the air strikes in Libya and fears of more in Syria to justify their votes.

China said it exercised its veto because the resolution would have “blindly” pressured the Arab nation and not helped.

“Some countries submitted a draft resolution to blindly impose pressure and even threatened sanctions against Syria. This would not help to ease the situation,” said foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu.

US ambassador Susan Rice labelled the comments a “cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people.”

Rice called on the council to impose “tough, targeted sanctions” and an arms embargo against Syria.

“The United States is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security,” she said.

But the foreign ministry in Moscow, which had proposed an alternative resolution also condemning all violence, said it would receive a delegation from Syria’s opposition later this month.

“In October we intend to receive in Moscow two Syrian opposition delegations — one from the domestic wing of the opposition based in Damascus, and the second from those who declared the so-called National Council in Istanbul,” said ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.