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EU to impose travel, shopping ban on Assad's wife

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union states are set to ban Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s wife Asma from travel to and shopping in the EU, diplomats said, cranking up pressure on his government to end a bloody crackdown on popular unrest.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma vote during a referendum on a new constitution at a polling station in a Syrian TV station building in Damascus February 26, 2012, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA. REUTERS/SANA

A British-born former investment banker who had once cultivated an image of a woman inspired by Western values, Asma al-Assad has become a hate figure for many Syrians. She has stood by her husband during a year-long crackdown on popular unrest in which the U.N. says at least 8,000 people have died.

In recent weeks she became the focus of media attention when a trove of emails between her and her husband obtained by Britain’s Guardian newspaper appeared to show them shopping for pop music and luxury items while Syria descended into bloodshed.

The EU has responded to Syria’s violence with a broad range of sanctions, which include a ban on Syrian oil imports to Europe and measures against the Syrian central bank and other companies and state institutions.

On Friday, it is expected to take new steps. For Asma, they will mean she will no longer be able to travel to the EU or buy products from EU-based companies, in her own name.

Foreign ministers of EU member states are set to agree on a new round of measures, the bloc’s 13th, and impose asset freezes and bans on travel to the EU against 12 people, include Asma.

A prohibition for European companies to do business with two more Syrian entities is also planned.

“The text (of sanctions) has gone through,” said one EU diplomat, referring to an agreement reached by EU envoys in Brussels to a list of new sanctions. Another diplomat confirmed Assad’s wife is included in the list of sanctioned individuals.

The list still needs formal approval from ministers. It will become public on Saturday when new sanctions are due to go into effect.

Assad himself has been a target since May last year, but sanctions have had little impact on his policies so far.

Violence has intensified in recent weeks as pro-government forces bombard rebel towns and villages, looking to sweep their lightly armed opponents out of their strongholds.

The international community has struggled to formulate a joint approach in the face of opposition from Russia and China to any resolution by the U.N. Security Council.

Assad absorbed a major diplomatic blow on Wednesday, however, when Russia and China joined the Security Council in voicing support for U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s bid to end violence that has brought Syria to the brink of civil war.

Additional reporting by Sebastian Moffett; Editing by Mark Heinrich