Last Updated: Tue Mar 06, 2012 23:23 pm (KSA) 20:23 pm (GMT)

Assad to pursue reforms, crush terrorism; Europe mulls removing Syrian envoys

A Syrian woman living in Turkey holds a placard showing victims of anti-government demonstrations, during a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in Istanbul. (Reuters)
A Syrian woman living in Turkey holds a placard showing victims of anti-government demonstrations, during a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in Istanbul. (Reuters)

Syria is determined to press on with reforms and to fight “terrorism,” President Bashar al-Assad, who has been battling a one-year uprising against his regime, said on Tuesday.

“The Syrian people, who have in the past managed to crush foreign plots ... have again proven their capacity to defend the nation and to build a new Syria through their determination to pursue reforms along with the fight against foreign-backed terrorism,” Assad said, quoted by state news agency SANA.

Assad, speaking during a meeting with a delegation from the Ukrainian parliament, said his country was clearly being targeted by outside forces seeking to undermine his regime.

“Any country draws its strength from the backing of its people,” he said.

The 46-year-old president has consistently blamed the one-year revolt threatening his regime on foreign-backed “terrorist gangs”.

The fierce government crackdown to crush the revolt has left more than 7,500 people dead, according to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, European governments are discussing whether to expel Syrian ambassadors from their respective countries in response to the intensifying crackdown, a French official said on Tuesday.

France’s ambassador to Damascus is returning to Paris on Tuesday after closing the embassy following President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to cut its diplomatic presence in Syria.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Syria’s ambassador to France had not been asked to leave yet, but talks were taking place to remove Syrian envoys from other European capitals.

“We are discussing it with the Europeans. At this stage we’re not there yet,” he said, adding that the decision could be taken on an individual country basis.

Madrid said it may also reduce its ties with Damascus depending on the outcome of a meeting of European Union member states’ ambassadors in Brussels on Tuesday.

Spain would maintain a diplomatic presence at the EU delegation in Syria “to monitor the situation of Spaniards in the zone, maintain contacts with the opposition and send a political message that what is happening in Syria is not acceptable”, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said.

The United States, Britain, Switzerland and Canada have already closed their embassies in the Syrian capital as violence intensifies across the country.

“It is no longer a regime,” Valero said. “It is a clan that is plunging itself deeper into a repressive policy that is leading the country to collapse.”

After the EU meeting diplomats said the states had met to discuss a coordinated diplomatic response to Syria, with the aim of reducing diplomatic ties both in EU capitals and Damascus.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) offered to host member state diplomats at its facility in Damascus, and said it had room for a total of five.

Spain said it was keen to take up the offer and would move one or two of its Syria-based diplomats there, said one of the diplomats in Brussels.

Madrid wants to keep its embassy open, run by local staff, meaning that Spanish diplomats still in Damascus and working at the EEAS would keep their diplomatic status, one diplomat said.

Other states said the EEAS idea was interesting, but that they wanted to keep their embassies open as long as the security situation allows.

Syria’s ambassador to London is set to leave his post after his term ended in Britain, the Foreign Office said on Tuesday.

“The Syrian ambassador Mr. Sami Khiyami has informed the Foreign Office that his posting has concluded,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.

There was no further detail on when Khiyami would be leaving Britain. He told the Foreign Office about the move on Monday. A Foreign office source said Britain understood the embassy would continue to function and that Khiyami would be replaced in due course.

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