Britain withdraws Syria envoy's royal wedding invitation

28th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain on Thursday withdrew the Syrian ambassador's invitation to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, saying the regime's crackdown on protesters made his presence "unacceptable".

Buckingham Palace agreed with Foreign Secretary William Hague's decision that ambassador Sami Khiyami should not attend Friday's ceremony, the Foreign Office said in a statement, following criticism from rights groups.

"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," the statement said.

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.

The Foreign Office defended the initial invitation, saying the Syrian envoy had been invited alongside all the estimated 185 countries which have ambassadors in London.

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

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Khiyami said he had yet to decide whether to attend the wedding when he found out the invitation had been withdrawn.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

Britain has already rescinded an invitation to the Libyan ambassador to London amid ongoing attacks against civilians by forces loyal to strongman Moamer Kadhafi in the North African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

Britain is one of several countries engaged in air strikes against Kadhafi's forces.

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.

In Britain there was also a row over the fact that former Labour party prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were not invited, while Conservative ex-premiers John Major and Margaret Thatcher were.

Former British foreign secretary Jack Straw said Thursday he was "surprised" Blair and Brown 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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