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Western governments pressure Syria on violence
Western governments began pressuring Syria Wednesday for its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests: EU countries mulled sanctions against Damascus and the US led a call for a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the crisis.
AFP - Western countries tried to build pressure on Syria Wednesday as rights activists upped the death toll from a crackdown on anti-regime protests to beyond the 450 mark.
France said five European Union countries were summoning Syria's respective ambassadors to protest, while EU envoys are to meet in Brussels on Friday to discuss imposing sanctions on Damascus.
The United States led a call for a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on Syria which will also take place on Friday, a UN spokesman said in Geneva.
The request was backed by 10 European states, as well as Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Senegal and Zambia.
Germany, which called the Brussels meeting, said it would strongly back EU sanctions against Syria.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said measures could include restricting the travel of top Syrian officials and seizing their assets, as well as cutting off economic assistance from the EU.
Michael Mann, spokesman for EU chief diplomat Catherine Ashton, said that "all options are on the table," while adding that the measures the bloc could take remained "unclear."
"We are acting as fast as possible, but of course we must have the agreement of all 27 member states to take such measures," Mann said.
Britain said Tuesday it was working with Washington and the EU to send a "strong signal" to Syria including sanctions.
And France's foreign ministry said Paris was urging the UN and the EU to take "strong measures" against Syria to halt the violence.
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Wednesday that minister Alain Juppe's chief of staff met Syrian ambassador Lamia Shakkur on Tuesday "as part of a coordinated move with Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy".
The aide, Herve Ladsous, reiterated French President Nicolas Sarkozy's position that "the violence which has been used against peaceful demonstrators, and which has caused hundreds of deaths, is unacceptable."
"The international community has been shocked by the killing of hundreds of civilians in connection with peaceful political protests in the past week," US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Eileen Donahoe said.
"At the special session, we expect Human Rights Council members will call on the government of Syria to meet its responsibility to protect its population and stop these attacks," she added.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Western nations expressed growing alarm on Tuesday at the deadly clampdown in Syria, but the Security Council made little headway in efforts to agree to condemn the violence.
Ban said he was watching events in Syria "with increasingly grave concern," adding, "I condemn, utterly, the continuing violence against peaceful demonstrators, most particularly the use of tanks and live fire that have killed and injured hundreds of people."
Ban backed a call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay for an "independent, transparent and effective investigation" into the crackdown.
The Security Council held talks on Syria but did not start detailed discussions on a draft resolution proposed by France, Germany, Britain and Portugal, aiming to condemn the violence, diplomats said.
The council was to meet again Wednesday for talks on the draft.
Meanwhile Turkey will send envoys to Syria Thursday as Ankara tries to push democratic change without harming flourishing ties with its southern neighbour.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to voice his "concerns" and "discomfort."
"We don't want... an authoritarian, totalitarian regime" in Syria, he said Wednesday. "We wish that... the process of democratisation is rapidly pursued."
Ankara opposes international sanctions on Damascus because it does not believe they are effective, a senior Turkish diplomat said, while conceding that Assad "is not listening to us."