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Middle east

Western leaders call for Syria's Assad to step aside

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-08-18

The leaders of the US, France, Germany, Britain and the EU have called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power over his deadly crackdown on protesters, announcing a new round of sanctions on the Syrian regime.

The US and the EU for the first time explicitly called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down Thursday, as international pressure mounted on the Syrian leader to give up power after a deadly crackdown on anti-regime protesters over the past five months.

“We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” US President Barack Obama’s strongly worded statement read.

The statement noted that Washington would not “impose this transition upon Syria” and would respect Syrians’ “desire that there not be foreign intervention in their movement”.

According to Nathan King and Philip Crowther, FRANCE 24’s correspondents in New York and Washington, respectively, the US is mindful of the unfolding situation in Libya and is therefore taking pains to emphasise that Assad would need to be toppled from within Syria. “It is time for the Syrian people to determine their own destiny, and we will continue to stand firmly on their side,” Obama’s statement read.

The EU swiftly echoed the move with its own call for an end to Assad’s leadership. “The EU has repeatedly emphasised that the brutal repression must be stopped,” read a statement by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton. “The Syrian leadership, however, has remained defiant.”

“This shows that the Syrian regime is unwilling to change,” the statement continued. “The EU notes the complete loss of Bashar al-Assad’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people and the necessity for him to step aside.”

Adding further muscle to the front against Assad was a joint statement from President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday calling on the leader “to step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people”.

Harsh new sanctions and a ‘clear message’ to UN Security Council

Both the US and the EU also announced a broadening of sanctions targeting Syria. Obama announced that the US was now to bar imports of Syrian oil and ban US investments in Syria. His statement also noted that Syrian government assets in the US would be frozen.

These sanctions would “strike at the heart of the Syrian regime” and “tighten the circle of isolation” in which Assad finds himself, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in prepared comments read out to reporters following the release of Obama’s statement.

According to Annette Young, FRANCE 24’s International Affairs editor, the new sanctions along with the coordinated calls for Assad to step down “send a clear message to countries like China, India, and South Africa, who’ve been reluctant to be tough with any sort of UN Security Council action”.

Indeed, given the US’s vow not to intervene militarily, UN Security Council action would be the logical next step and “possibly one of the very last steps anyone can take” in the international effort against Assad, FRANCE 24’s Philip Crowther reported from Washington.

The UN Security Council has already been pushed to address the Syria situation by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, who said earlier Thursday that Syria may have committed crimes against humanity in its crackdown on protesters and called for the council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.

Date created : 2011-08-18


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