Foreign Office withdraws Syria's royal wedding invitation

LONDON Thu Apr 28, 2011 10:57pm BST

Crowds walk along Whitehall which will be part of the Royal Wedding Procession Route, in central London April 27, 2011. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Crowds walk along Whitehall which will be part of the Royal Wedding Procession Route, in central London April 27, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has withdrawn the royal wedding invitation to Syria, with the support of Buckingham Palace, after a violent crackdown against pro-democracy supporters, a Foreign Office spokesman said Thursday.

The invitation was rescinded on the eve of Friday's wedding between Prince William and his long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton, following criticism from opposition politicians and human rights groups.

"You may not want to see the pictures of repression in Syria at the same time as the picture of the Syrian ambassador happily being greeted at the wedding," Human Rights Watch senior legal adviser Clive Baldwin told Reuters.

He said Britain should make clear it opposed human rights abuses to avoid being seen as condoning repressive regimes, especially as the eyes of the world would be on the country at this time.

Human rights groups are unhappy that invitations have been sent to Saudi Arabia, while Sunday, Bahrain's crown prince said he would not attend because of unrest in the Gulf Arab kingdom.

The Foreign Office said those countries with which Britain has normal diplomatic relations had been invited, and that "while we have strong disagreements with many of them this remains the case."

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who held a demonstration outside Buckingham Palace Thursday, said it was "time Buckingham Palace stopped playing diplomatic niceties."

"We can have diplomatic relations with these countries but there is no obligation to reward their regimes with seats of honour in Westminster Abbey," he told Reuters.

Labour politicians complained that representatives for Syria and other countries criticised for their human rights records had been invited, but former Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were not.

Human rights groups have estimated that at least 400 civilians have been shot dead in Syria during the month-long demonstrations.

Britain summoned the Syrian ambassador Sami Khiyami to the Foreign Office Wednesday to condemn the "unacceptable use of force" against protesters.

A day later, under intense media pressure, it rescinded the wedding invitation saying the Foreign Office and Buckingham Palace shared the view that it was "not considered appropriate" for the ambassador to attend.

Khiyami later told BBC radio: "I find it a bit embarrassing but I do not consider it as a matter that would jeopardise any ongoing relations and discussions with the British government."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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