Tags: ML | Syria

Syria Says Clinton Comments Are 'Provocation'

Tuesday, 12 Jul 2011 10:24 AM

BEIRUT — Syria accused Washington of provocation Tuesday after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said President Bashar Assad had lost legitimacy and was "not indispensable."

Both the U.S. and France strongly criticized Syria after pro-government mobs attacked the American and French embassies in Damascus on Monday, smashing windows and spray-painting obscenities and graffiti on the walls.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry condemned Clinton's statement as "a provocative reaction."

"Syria stresses that the legitimacy of its political leadership is based neither on the United States nor on others, it is exclusively from the will of the Syrian people," the statement said.

President Bashar Assad is facing a four-month-old uprising that has posed the gravest challenge to his family's 40-year dynasty in Syria, one of the most tightly controlled countries in the Middle East.

He has tried to crush the unrest using a mixture of deadly force and promises of reform, but the revolt has only grown more defiant. Enraged by a government crackdown that activists say has killed some 1,600 people, the protest movement is now calling for nothing less than the downfall of the regime.

Syria's deadly government crackdown has led to international condemnation and sanctions.

On Tuesday, France's prime minister said the embassy attacks show Assad's hold on power is slipping.

Speaking on Europe-1 radio, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said "each passing day makes it more and more difficult" for the authoritarian leader to remain in power.

France also urged the United Nations Security Council to take action on Syria.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France was trying to convince the Russians in particular "that it is not acceptable for the Security Council to allow what's happening in Syria to happen without reacting."

China and Russia are seen as blocking the adoption of a U.N. resolution against Syria.

The mobs attacked the embassies to protest visits last week by the American and French ambassadors to Hama, an opposition stronghold in central Syria. Three French embassy workers were injured in the melee, the French Foreign Ministry said.

On Monday, Clinton cautioned Assad and his supporters that there was no truth to suggestions by some that the U.S. wanted to see the current regime stay in power for stability's' sake.

"President Assad is not indispensable and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power," she said.

She added: "From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy."

Syrian authorities called the ambassadors' visits to Hama interference in the country's internal affairs and accused the envoys of undermining Syria's stability.

Police on Tuesday beefed up their presence outside both missions in the capital, Damascus. At the French embassy, workers were cleaning the walls outside and painting over red graffiti.

The U.S. and France accused Syrian forces of being too slow to respond to the violence and demanded the government abide by its international obligations to protect diplomatic missions. The U.S. formally protested, calling the attacks "outrageous," and saying protesters were incited by a television station heavily influenced by Syrian authorities.

The Syrian government organized three days of talks on reform this week, but the main opposition factions boycotted the meeting, saying there should not be dialogue until the deadly crackdown ends.

At the meeting's closing session Tuesday, participants issued a statement calling for the release of political prisoners and detainees who have not been convicted of any crime. The participants, including some government and some opposition figures and intellectuals, also recommended the formation of a legal committee that would revise the Syrian constitution.

But the meeting was not expected to produce any breakthrough to immediately end the bloodshed.

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