France recalls Syria ambassador, vows more pressure
PARIS (Reuters) - France recalled its ambassador from Syria Tuesday in protest at the violent government crackdown on opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, saying his "days were numbered" and vowing to press on with efforts to end the bloodshed.
"Faced with worsening repression led by the Damascus regime against its own population, French authorities have decided to recall their ambassador in Syria for consultations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters.
Paris, which helped draft a U.N. resolution with Arab League backing that was vetoed by Russia and China, is working on creating an international group to bring together all those opposed to the violence, which it says has cost more than 6,000 lives since street protests erupted 11 months ago.
France recalled its ambassador in November after pro-government Syrian crowds attacked its honorary consulate in Latakia and diplomatic offices in Aleppo.
"We will not give up," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told a foreign affairs debate in the Senate. "We have two objectives: to intensify the pressure on the countries that use their veto and to add pressure on the Syrian regime which is discredited. Its day are numbered and the veto in New York is not a blank check to continue (repression)."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Saturday that Paris was consulting various countries to create a Syrian contact group to support the opposition and find a solution to the crisis with the Arab league plan as its basis.
Juppe met the Paris-based head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, late Monday and spoke to the Arab League's secretary general and the Qatari prime minister as part of his push to produce a concrete proposal to put the group in place by the end of the week.
"It is not true that there is a regime that represses on one side and terrorists on the other side. This is a regime that is carrying out one of the most savage suppressions that we've seen," he said.
Valero said the SNC, which Paris regards as a legitimate partner, was making progress in unifying the various ethnicities and opposition groups in Syria.
Sarkozy is set to speak to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting Assad Tuesday that Assad had presented reform plans to help end the bloodshed.
Diplomats said Assad had made many promises over the last 10 months that had come to nothing.
France will also look to rally support from Lebanon later this week when Prime Minister Najib Mikati heads to Paris.
"We will remind (Mikati) of our condemnation of Syrian army incursions on Lebanese territory and of the importance we attach to protecting Syrian refugees in Lebanon," Valero said.
Syria dominated Lebanon politically and through its intelligence apparatus after the 1975-1991 Lebanese civil war, and the Syrian uprising has deepened the divisions between Syria's foes and allies in Lebanon.
Hezbollah, the Shi'ite Muslim guerrilla group and political movement, is seen as supporting Syria and Beirut has criticized the Arab League's transition plan.
(Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Nick Vinocur; editing by Tim Pearce)
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