Sat, February 25, 2012
World > Middle East

"Friends of Syria" meet in Tunis, keeps out Syrian gov't

2012-02-25 05:43:16 GMT2012-02-25 13:43:16(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L) confers with United Arab Emirates' (UAE) Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan during the Friends of Syria Conference in Tunis, February 24, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

TUNIS, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- A group known as the Friends of Syria started its first conference in Tunis on Friday, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Syria to make way for humanitarian aids to flow into the conflicts-torn country.

Delegates from 60 countries and organizations, including the United States, European and Arab nations, and the Syrian opposition were invited to the conference hosted by Tunisia. However, the conference shut its door to the Syrian government.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki made the opening address, saying that Tunis opposed solving the Syrian crisis through external interference and endorsed a plan to send Arab peacekeeping forces to Syria to stop violence and protect the civilians.

Marzouki also suggested that a "Yemen-model" should be adopted to help Syria to start its democratic transition, meaning that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should step down and hand over power to his deputy, making way for a transitional process that will help end the bloody confrontation between the government and opposition.

Arab League (AL) Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi said at the opening that the AL would respect Syria's sovereignty, and refuse any form of foreign intervention so as to prevent a civil war.

The AL would also meet the aspirations of the Syrian people towards freedom and political reform, Arabi said.

The conference then carried on behind closed doors after the opening session.

At the meeting, the group reached consensus on avoiding a militarization of the conflict in Syria and moving instead towards a political solution by recognizing the opposition Syrian National Council as the "legitimate representative" for the Syrian people.

The group also agreed to impose more sanctions against the Syrian government and reduce diplomatic interactions with Damascus.

France said the European Union (EU) would freeze assets of Syria's national bank in EU member countries from Monday.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to toughen U.S. sanctions against Syria.

Hillary also announced at the conference that the United States was providing 10 million U.S. dollars to "quickly scale up humanitarian efforts, including support for refugees" in Syria.

She warned that the Assad regime would pay a "heavy cost" for "ignoring the will of the international community and violating the human rights of your people."

Russia and China, who vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at forcing Assad to step down, refused to attend the conference.

China contended that the function and purpose of the conference was ambiguous, while Russia said that it was unfair to keep out the Syrian government.

As the conference began on Friday, supporters of the Syrian government clashed with police in front of the hotel where the conference was held.

Shouting anti-America and anti-Qatar slogans, demonstrators denounced the expulsion of Syrian diplomats and the ongoing meeting. They termed the gathering "a plot against Syria perpetrated on the Tunisian soil."

Some pro-Syrian political parties in Tunis called the meeting "Enemies of Syria" Conference as the host had only invited the opposition parties to attend.

Since the unrest broke out in Syria last March, the number of casualties in the conflict has been rising steadily amid unrelenting clashed and fights between government forces and opposition fighters.

According to latest reports, six members of a family were murdered by unidentified gunmen in central Homs province on Thursday and another eight law-enforcement troops were killed in clashes with armed groups in several parts of Syria.

The United Nations recently put the death toll in the Syrian unrest at 6,000, while the Syrian government says more than 2,000 army and security personnel have been killed during the 11-months turmoil.

The Syrian government blamed the months-long bloodshed in its country on armed groups backed by foreign powers.

Blaming the bloodshed entirely on the Syrian government, Western powers and some Arab countries have been demanding that Assad relinquish power, a move some suspect amounting to forcing a regime change in Syria.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Thursday appointed Kofi Annan, former UN chief, as a joint UN-AL envoy on the Syrian crisis to broker a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

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