Syrian opposition urges tougher Russia stance on Assad

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The exiled Syrian opposition on Tuesday called on Moscow, which has far refused to back punitive measures against Damascus, to toughen its stance against the regime of defiant leader Bashar al-Assad.

Members of the largest and most representative Syrian opposition grouping, the Syrian National Council -- led by its head Burhan Ghalioun -- travelled to Moscow for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"We told our Russian colleagues that to make the start of the talks possible we believe it is necessary for Russia and the international community to send an important signal and demand Bashar al-Assad's resignation," Paris-based Ghalioun was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency after the talks.

"We want the crisis to be overcome," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Ghalioun as saying. "And we would like this without military interference from the outside."

Russia has repeatedly opposed Western efforts to slap sanctions against its traditional Middle Eastern ally Syria over its lethal crackdown on protests, insisting on the need for dialogue.

Moscow has also become one of the few countries which condemned Syria's suspension from the Arab League, saying Monday that the move was "incorrect" and appeared to be pre-planned.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last month called on Assad to accept reforms or resign, but Moscow has subsequently not backed insistent Western calls for him to quit.

In a separate statement issued after the talks, the Russian foreign ministry said it urged all members of the Syrian opposition who were against violence to join the Arab League's plan to end nearly eight months of bloodshed in Syria.

The Arab roadmap offered to the Syrian government at the start of the month called for an immediate halt to the bloodletting, the removal of tanks from the streets, and the start of a dialogue between the Damascus regime and its opponents.

Russian diplomats stressed the importance of "conducting reforms in the interests of all Syrians" as well as the "inadmissibility of military interference in Syria's affairs from the outside," the statement said.

"Burhan Ghalioun on the whole agreed with such an approach with an emphasis on the aforementioned Arab League initiative," it said.

© 2011 AFP

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