China raps Assad regime for slow pace of reforms

Syria’s top Sunni cleric warns of suicide attacks in response to any Western military intervention.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
October 12, 2011 06:40
2 minute read.
Syrian President Bashar Assad with army generals

Syrian President Bashar Assad with his army generals 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday pressed Syria to move faster to honor promises of reform, nearly a week after it rejected a Western-backed UN draft resolution condemning the bloody crackdown by Syrian authorities.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China opposes violence and does not “want to see more bloodshed, conflict and casualties.”

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“We believe the Syrian government should more rapidly implement their promises of reform, begin and advance as soon as possible a process that is more lenient and inclusive to all parties... and through dialogue appropriately resolve issues,” he said.

Liu’s remarks echo statements made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week that Syria’s leaders should step down if they cannot enact reforms.

Both Russia and China drew criticism from the West after they joined forces last week to veto a Europeandrafted UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria for its violent treatment of protesters.

Liu defended China’s decision on Tuesday, saying the draft resolution “threatened sanctions,” which, he added, “is not beneficial to Syria’s stability.”

China, which generally avoids taking a role in the domestic affairs of other nations, has decried foreign pressure on Syria following calls from the UN and Europe for Bashar Assad to step down, saying the country’s future should be decided internally.

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China has on several occasions called on other countries not to get involved, and has kept a relatively low profile in the global response to the tumult sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

Analysts have said that China will carefully foster ties and trade with new governments across the region, presenting itself as a steadfast friend, and oil customer, of governments that ride out the unrest.

Earlier this week, the most senior Sunni cleric in Syria warned the United States and Europe that his country would unleash suicide bomb attacks in their countries if they launched military strikes against it.

Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, whose son was shot dead by gunmen in the northern province of Idlib a week ago, made the comments to a visiting Lebanese delegation late on Sunday.

“I say to the whole of Europe, I say to America: We will prepare our suicide bombers who are already with you if you bombard Syria or Lebanon,” Hassoun said in remarks broadcast by Al Jazeera television.

“From today an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

The United States and the European Union have condemned Assad’s crackdown on six months of street protests, imposing sanctions on Syrian oil exports and some businesses, and pushing the United Nations to pressure Damascus.

But no country has suggested military intervention in Syria along the lines of the NATO action which helped Libyan rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi.

The assassination of the mufti’s son was the first attack on Syria’s state-backed clergy, who have supported Assad despite widespread Sunni resentment at decades of dominance by Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

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