January 29, 2013 08:21
Russia says it "never supported" the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters Monday in Moscow that Russia does not support one side in the Syrian conflict over another, and criticized what he said were other countries misrepresenting Russia's policies.
"We were never enchanted with this regime. And we never supported it," he said. "And all of our actions, aimed at helping to fulfill the Geneva agreement to form the transitional body, only confirm that we want the situation to stabilize, and the creation of the conditions that Syrians can themselves decide their fate -- of their own people, their own state, their own leadership."
His comments come a day after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Assad made a potentially "fatal" error by delaying democratic reforms demanded by Syria's opposition. He said Assad should have acted much faster to reach out to moderate opponents, and that he believes the president's chances of remaining in power are getting smaller each day.
Russia has been a longtime supplier of weapons to the ruling Assad family and has vetoed UN Security Council resolutions that would have condemned him for trying to crush what began as a peaceful pro-democracy uprising.
Also Monday, Syrian opposition members met with representatives from friendly countries in Paris, where French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called for giving the opposition the means to defend itself and support its political aims.
"What we all want is that Syria can free itself. And we want to avoid what we call chaos. If we don't give the means to the Syrian people to go right to the end of its liberation, we all know that there is a risk that the massacres will increase, that antagonisms will develop," said Fabius. "That extremism and terrorism will prevail. We want to fight those."
Syrian state media said Sunday the government's top judicial council has suspended legal action against exiled opposition figures, to allow them to return home for a national dialogue proposed by President Assad earlier this month. However, Syria's exiled opposition coalition has consistently refused to deal with Assad, saying he must leave power before any peace talks can begin.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos was in Damascus on Sunday to learn more about the suffering caused by the conflict, which she has described as "catastrophic."
The UN is to hold a donor conference in Kuwait Wednesday, to raise funds for Syria's humanitarian crisis.
The rebellion has evolved into civil war in which majority Sunni rebels and Islamist militants have been fighting to end the 12-year rule of Assad, a minority Alawite.
The United Nations estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began with pro-democracy protests in March 2011, before evolving into a civil war.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.
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