Clinton Seeks Anti-Assad Coalition

Posted February 5th, 2012 at 11:00 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for “friends of a democratic Syria” to push to end President Bashar al-Assad's bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters and promote a political transition that would see him step down.

Clinton spoke in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, a day after Russia and China blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have “fully supported” an Arab League plan calling for Mr. Assad to cede power to a deputy, end the violence and hold elections.

She called Saturday's veto “a travesty,” and vowed to work with other nations to tighten “regional and national” sanctions and as she put it, “dry up the sources of funding and arms shipments that are keeping the regime's war machine going.”

U.S. officials said like-minded countries would also work to bring together disparate Syrian opposition groups inside and outside the country, provide humanitarian relief and monitor arms sales to Damascus. Possible participants in the coalition include Turkey, Arab countries and West European nations.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said Sunday the Arab bloc would continue its efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis. He said the veto by Russia and China “does not negate” what he called “clear international support” for the league's plan.

Russia said the U.N. draft resolution was biased and would have meant taking sides in a civil war. Syria is a key Moscow ally in the Middle East, home to a Russian naval base and a leading arms customer. China's veto was widely seen as following Russia's lead.

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, called the double veto “a new license to kill…for Bashar al-Assad and his criminal regime.” The SNC said it held Moscow and Beijing “responsible for the escalating acts of killing and genocide.”

Protesters stormed Russia's embassy in Libya's capital, Tripoli, Sunday, climbing on the roof and tearing down the flag. In Turkey, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters seeking to storm the Syrian consulate in Istanbul. In Beirut, hundreds of Syrian dissidents and Lebanese activists demonstrated outside the Russian embassy.

Tunisia's prime minister said Sunday his country is cutting ties with Syria. Hamadi Jebali said Tunisia is expelling Syria's ambassador, and he urged other Arab nations to do the same.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the failure to pass the resolution, saying the Security Council “lost an opportunity to take unified action” to help end the crisis. The other 13 Security Council members voted in favor, including the United States, France and Germany.

After the council vote Saturday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said Washington was “disgusted” with the vetoes by Russia and China. British ambassador to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant said Moscow and Beijing have turned their backs on the Arab world to support tyranny.

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari accused members of the United Nations of supporting what he called “armed terrorists.”

In Syria Sunday, clashes between troops and army defectors were reported in the central cities of Homs and Rastan, in northwestern Idlib province and in Daraa. One activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said at least 22 were killed across Syria. The reports could not be independently confirmed.