Middle East

EU tightens noose on Syria, urges UN action

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's gather during a rally in Syria's northern city of Aleppo November 13, 2011. REUTERS/SANA/Handout

BRUSSELS: The European Union tightened the noose on Syria on Monday, slapping new sanctions on Presidant Basahar al-Assad's regime and urging the UN to act to protect civilians after eight months of bloodshed.

Foreign ministers stepped into talks in Brussels lauding the Arab League's decision to suspend Syria for failing to implement a plan to end violence which has left 3,500 dead since mid-March, according to the United Nations.

"Today the time has come to see how we can better protect the population. I hope the Security Council too will finally take a position," French Foreign Minister Juppe said after denouncing "the bloody stubbornness" of Damascus.

Sweden's foreign minister said one option to protect civilians could be to despatch UN observers.

Shortly after going into the talks, ministers agreed to blacklist a further 18 Syrians associated with the lethal crackdown and freeze loans offered to Damascus by the European Investment Bank (EIB).

"It's important that the EU consider additional measures," Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said. "We have taken very strong measures, I think we can add to those."

Hague backed the Arab League's suspension of Syria but asked whether the situation was ripe for intervention as the death toll mounts, said it "is a different situation" from Libya, and a far more "complex" one, with no UN resolution to back up intervention.

Saying the vetoes of China and Russia at the UN Security Council were "very regrettable mistakes", he called for further international talks to stem the violence in Syria.

China meanwhile pressed Syria to implement the peace plan while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned Syria's suspension as "incorrect."

Syria on Monday reiterated that it would not budge despite its suspension.

"Today there is a crisis in Syria which pays the price of its strong positions. Syria will not budge and will emerge stronger ... and plots against Syria will fail," said Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

Under the new EU sanctions, the EIB will suspend new loans and freeze disbursement of outstanding credits while also halting technical assistance such as audits and feasibility studies.

The 27-nation bloc has already slapped seven rounds of sanctions against the Assad regime, including an arms embargo, and bans on imports of Syrian crude oil and new investments and credits to the Syrian petrol sector.

It has ordered an assets freeze and travel ban on 56 people allegedly involved in the crackdown and frozen the funds of 19 companies and institutions.





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