UK makes diplomatic protests over Syria violence

LONDON Mon Feb 6, 2012 9:07pm GMT

British Foreign Minister William Hague addresses the United Nations Security Council during a meeting at the United Nations in New York January 31, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar

British Foreign Minister William Hague addresses the United Nations Security Council during a meeting at the United Nations in New York January 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is recalling its ambassador to Syria for consultations as a diplomatic protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on protesters, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday.

The Syrian ambassador in London was also summoned to the Foreign Office to hear a British protest over the violence in Syria, Hague told parliament.

The moves come after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. resolution on Saturday that backed an Arab plan calling on Assad to quit, a move Hague called a grave error of judgment by Moscow and Beijing and a "betrayal of the Syrian people."

"I have today recalled to London our ambassador in Damascus for consultations," Hague said.

Calling the Syrian government "a doomed regime as well as a murdering regime," Hague said there was no way it could recover its credibility internationally or with its own people.

He welcomed the idea of a new Arab-led group of "Friends of Syria" and said Britain would be "a highly active member in setting up such a group with the broadest possible international support."

The United States and France have both floated the idea of a "Friends of Syria" or a contact group to tackle the Syria crisis after the deadlock at the United Nations.

"The aim of such a group will be to demonstrate the strength of international support for the people of Syria and their legitimate demands, to coordinate intensified diplomatic and economic pressure on the regime, and to engage with Syrian opposition groups committed to a democratic future for the country," Hague said.

Britain will intensify its contacts with member of the Syrian opposition, Hague said. London appointed Frances Guy, a former British ambassador to Lebanon, in November to coordinate relations with the Syrian opposition.

However, Hague said Britain was not contemplating arming the Syrian opposition.

"One of the things that we stressed in our meetings with the Syrian opposition was that they should remain peaceful and we have not been in contact with the Free Syrian Army, which is engaged in a different kind of struggle with the Syrian authorities," he said.

"We are not calling for military action or intervention," he said.

Hague said Britain would continue to raise Syria at the U.N. Security Council, despite Saturday's vote. In the absence of a Security Council resolution, Britain and other nations would consider a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly, he said.

Britain would increase pressure on Syria through the European Union, he said. "We have already agreed 11 rounds of EU sanctions and will hope to agree further measures by the (EU) Foreign Affairs Council on February 27," he said.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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