Europeans spar with Russia, China on Syria at U.N.

UNITED NATIONS Fri Oct 14, 2011 4:51pm EDT

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's wave flags and hold pictures of him during a rally at al-Sabaa Bahrat square in Damascus October 12, 2011. Tens of thousands of Syrians demonstrated in central Damascus on Wednesday in show of support for al-Assad, who is battling a six-month uprising against his rule in which the United Nations says 2,900 people have been killed.  REUTERS/ Khaled al-Hariri

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's wave flags and hold pictures of him during a rally at al-Sabaa Bahrat square in Damascus October 12, 2011. Tens of thousands of Syrians demonstrated in central Damascus on Wednesday in show of support for al-Assad, who is battling a six-month uprising against his rule in which the United Nations says 2,900 people have been killed.

Credit: Reuters/ Khaled al-Hariri

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - European members of the U.N. Security Council clashed with Russia and China on Friday by raising concerns about Syria and the looming specter of civil war during a closed-door meeting, council diplomats said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, several diplomats said the French, British, German and Portuguese envoys supported a statement issued on Friday by U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay, who called for international protection of civilians in Syria and warned of a possible civil war.

Syrian forces shot dead at least six people protesting against President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, activists said, 10 days after Russia and China joined forces on a rare "double veto" to kill a European-drafted Security Council resolution that would have condemned Syria and hinted at possible future sanctions.

Friday's European push on Syria elicited an angry response from Russian deputy U.N. envoy Alexander Pankin, who complained that French Ambassador Gerard Araud was flouting normal procedure by introducing issues "not on the agenda of the meeting," a diplomat present at the meeting told Reuters.

The Chinese envoy told the council that since Pillay's remarks on Syria had not been requested by the Security Council, it should not take them into consideration, envoys said.

The closed-door council meeting followed the earlier adoption on Friday of two routine resolutions in public sessions. Its official agenda was a monthly review by the U.N. Department of Public Affairs on world affairs and conflicts.

During the meeting, Araud told the council that "the advocates of inaction on Syria should draw conclusions from the latest appalling developments," according to the French U.N. mission's Twitter page.

GRIM PICTURE

Araud was referring to Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, the five "BRICS" emerging markets nations that have resisted the Western push for tough council action on Syria since the government crackdown against pro-democracy protesters began over half a year ago, diplomats said.

Portuguese Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, one of the co-sponsors of last week's failed resolution, confirmed he had said the council should revisit the idea of condemning Damascus.

"The situation (in Syria) is deteriorating fast," Cabral said. "The council should come back to it."

German Ambassador Peter Wittig echoed Cabral's remarks, saying the council should not give up on Syria.

"Since the double veto was cast, the situation has continued to be extremely concerning," he told reporters, adding that he told the council Pillay's report "paints a very grim picture of the continuing repression."

"We said (to the Security Council) that if we let things slide, we will be at the brink of a civil war," he said.

The British and Colombian envoys made similar remarks, though diplomats said U.S. Deputy Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis did not touch on Syria during his remarks.

Brazil, India and South Africa, which abstained from last week's vote on the Syria resolution, did not mention the issue when they addressed the council, diplomats said.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)

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