Latest update: 22/06/2011
Syria blasts EU for 'sowing chaos' amid new sanctions
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Wednesday scorned the European Union’s criticism of President Bashar al-Assad’s promises of reform and threatened to break off relations, saying the EU was seeking to "sow strife and chaos in Syria".
REUTERS - Syria scorned the European Union dismissal of its president's promises of reform on Wednesday, saying it showed Europe wanted to sow chaos in the country and threatening to turn to other regions for trade and support.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem also said he was confident that despite mounting international pressure on Syria, three months into an uprising against the Assad family's 40-year rule, there would be no foreign military intervention in his country, nor a no-fly zone of the kind NATO has imposed over Libya.
EU states extended sanctions against Syria on Tuesday to include four firms linked to the armed forces and to more people connected with the suppression of anti-government protests. Before the uprising, Syria had been courted by Western nations hoping to weaken its strategic alliance with Iran.
"The reactions from European Union officials to President Assad's speech -- they have a plan and they want to continue with it, to sow strife and chaos in Syria," Moualem told a news conference in Damascus.
Reuters monitored the televised broadcast from outside the country, since Syria has expelled its correspondents.
Moualem added: "We will forget that Europe is on the map, and we will turn to the east, to the south and all directions that extend a hand to Syria. The world is not only Europe. Syria will remain steadfast."
Russia and China, both veto-holding members, have refused to back a United Nations Security Council resolution, proposed by European powers, which would condemn Syria for its crackdown on protesters.
Appeal to Turkey
In a speech on Monday, only his third since the outbreak of protests in which rights groups say 1,300 civilians have been killed, Assad promised reforms and called for national dialogue.
Many Syrians and world leaders dismissed his pledges as inadequate. Violence continued on Tuesday with the killing of seven people by gunmen in two cities during rival protests by Assad loyalists and opponents, an opposition activist said.
Moualem said his country would not accept demands from "outside Syria".
He urged Turkey, once a close ally but now an increasingly vocal critic of Assad, to reconsider its frosty response to his speech and said Syria wanted the "best relations with Turkey".
In May, the European Union added Assad and other senior officials to a list of those banned from travelling to the EU and subject to asset freezes. On Tuesday, an EU diplomat said Britain and France had prepared lists proposing to add fewer than a dozen individuals and entities to those already targeted by EU asset freezes and visa bans.
The British list also proposed sanctions against at least two Iranian individuals involved in providing equipment and support for the suppression of dissent in Syria, but one of the 27 EU member states had yet to approve this, the diplomat said.
Moualem denied that Iran or its Lebanese ally Hezbollah had intervened to confront Syrian protesters, and said that the killings of some police and soldiers indicated that Islamist group al Qaeda might be behind some of the violence.
"I cannot hide the fact that some of the practices that we have seen in the killings of security personnel gives an indication that these acts were carried out by al Qaeda," he said, without elaborating.