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Hollande fails to change Putin's mind on Syria

Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

French President François Hollande failed to convince Russia’s Vladimir Putin, visiting Paris Friday, that Syria’s leader Bashar al Assad has to go and that sanctions should be slapped on his regime. Assad’s regime had acted in an “unacceptable, intolerable” fashion, said Hollande, blaming it for last week’s Houla massacre.


“There will be no possible way out of this situation without the departure of Bashar al Assad,” Hollande said at a press conference following the two-and-a-half-hour meeting and dinner with Putin.

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But Putin that it is necessary to “reconcile all the parties to the conflict”.

“If we depose a sitting president, do you think there will be complete happiness in the country tomorrow?” he asked rhetorically, pointing to the violence that hit in Libya after the fall of Moamer Kadhafi and Iraq after Saddam Hussein.

Russia and China voted against a resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission, meeting in Geneva Friday, ordering an inquiry into the Houla massacre on the grounds that it presumed that the Syrian authorities were responsible.

The motion was passed with 41 of the 47 council members voting for it.

In Paris Putin insisted that Assad’s opponents had killed hundreds of civilians and stressed the importance of avoiding civil war and backing former UN secretary-general Koffi Annan’s peace efforts.

He has stuck to his position in Berlin earlier in the day, too, but Chancellor Angela Merkel was conciliatory, declaring that both leaders “wanted a political solution and … that the [Annan] plan would be the starting point”.

Other reactions to the Syrian situation include:

  • Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said he had sent a letter to the UN Security Council urging it to “undertake all necessary measures to protect the Syrian people”;
  • US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday said the American army was ready to take any necessary action in Syria but Washington preferred to persuade Assad to quit by diplomatic means;
  • After meeting UN chief Ban Ki-Moon in Istanbul, British Foreign Secretary William Hague declared that the two were agreed that “Syria is on the edge of a catastrophic situation” tha could mean “all-out civil war” and “collapse … into sectarian strife”.

Clashes continued in Syria on Saturday, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

There was fighting in Damascus, Kfar Batna, Homs and Daraa province, with at least two people reported dead.

One man was killed and five wounded in clashes between pro- and anti-Assad gunmen in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

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