Britain bars Syria envoy from royal wedding

28th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain on Thursday abruptly withdrew the Syrian ambassador's invitation on the eve of the royal wedding, saying the regime's crackdown on protesters made it unacceptable for him to attend.

Buckingham Palace said it agreed with Foreign Secretary William Hague's decision, following pressure from rights groups and the media, to bar envoy Sami Khiyami from Friday's marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Khiyami said the move was "a bit embarrassing" but it would not bother Damascus.

The invitation was particularly controversial in Britain because former Labour party prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were not invited, although Conservative ex-premiers John Major and Margaret Thatcher were.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that the Syrian envoy had been initially invited alongside all the estimated 185 countries which have ambassadors in London as part of diplomatic protocol.

"An invitation does not mean endorsement or approval of the behaviour of any government, simply that we have normal diplomatic relations with that country," the statement said.

"In the light of this week's attacks against civilians by the Syrian security forces, which we have condemned, the Foreign Secretary has decided that the presence of the Syrian ambassador at the royal wedding would be unacceptable and that he should not attend."

Britain had on Wednesday summoned Khiyami to the Foreign Office in a coordinated action with four other European nations to condemn the "unacceptable use of force against protesters."

Rights groups say at least 453 civilians have been killed in Syria since protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad first erupted in mid-March.

Buckingham Palace -- the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William's grandmother -- confirmed that it endorsed the decision.

"Buckingham Palace shares the view of the Foreign Office that it is not considered appropriate for the Syrian ambassador to attend the wedding," a palace spokeswoman told AFP.

Khiyami said he had yet to decide whether to attend the wedding when he found out the invitation had been withdrawn.

"I don't really understand it but I understand the influence of media on the government decisions," he told BBC Radio.

He said withdrawal of his invitation would not harm relations with Britain and he expressed sympathy for the royal couple.

"The bride and groom need not have their wedding distracted by other matters."

Khiyami added that he had not yet informed Damascus about the decision but said they were unlikely to be concerned.

"There are issues they (the Syrian authorities ) are now handling that go a little bit beyond what we are discussing," he said.

Rights groups have criticised the attendance of dignitaries from a number of countries with poor human rights records.

Britain has already rescinded an invitation to the Libyan ambassador to London amid ongoing attacks against civilians by forces loyal to strongman Moamer Kadhafi in the North African country.

The Crown Prince of Bahrain on Sunday said he would no longer be attending, saying he did not want unrest in his country to distract from the British royals' big day.

A bloody crackdown on mainly Shiite Muslim protesters in Sunni-ruled Bahrain has left at least 24 people dead.

Meanwhile, the row in Britain over the palace's apparent snub to Blair and Brown refused to die down, with former British foreign secretary Jack Straw saying he was "surprised" the pair had not been invited.

"In retrospect I think the decision-makers probably would have made some different decisions both in respect of former prime ministers and in respect of the number of ambassadors being invited," he told BBC radio.

© 2011 AFP

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