Syria accuses EU of fomenting 'chaos'

Syrian foreign minister says European Union wants to "plant strife", and calls for easing of tensions with Turkey.

    Walid al-Muallem, Syria's foreign minister, has said the European Union's reaction to President Bashar al-Assad's speech on Monday showed it wanted to "plant strife and chaos" in the country.

    Addressing journalists in Damascus on Wednesday, Muallem said his country - which has seen three months of protests against Assad's rule - would not accept demands from "outside Syria".

    "None outside the Syrian family have the right to dictate or to ask. The Syrian affair is an internal affair and any intervention from outside is rejected," Muallem said.

    Syria has come under increasing international pressure and sanctions over its brutal crackdown on a growing protest movement.

    In his speech, in which he firmly backed Assad, Muallem said Syria regarded EU sanctions as a "war" against the country.

    "We say to those in Europe who are criticising us that they should stop interfering in Syrian affairs and sowing trouble in order to apply plans contrary to Syrian national interests."

    Muallem accused France of pursuing a "colonialist agenda under the guise of human rights" and said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe had colonial "illusions."

    France, which ruled Syria for several years under a League of Nations mandate after World War I, is spearheading attempts to get the United Nations to speak out against Damascus's crackdown.

    'Best relations with Turkey'

    Muallem also urged Turkey to reconsider its response to Assad's speech, which Turkish President Abdullah Gul indicated was not enough.

    Muallem said his country wanted "best relations with Turkey".

    Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught reports on
    Turkey's reaction to Assad's speech

    "We don't want to wipe away years of efforts to establish privileged ties ...I wish [Turkey] would reconsider its position," he said.

    The comments come as Ankara has distanced itself from Damascus and as thousands of refugees have fled across the border into southern Turkey.

    "There are very serious tensions between Turkey and Syria," Al Jazeera's Rula Amin reported from Beirut in Lebanon. "They have been very crucial allies, serving each other's interests for a number of years".

    Asked about his vision for Syria in three months. Muallem said: "We will offer an example of democracy ... There will be social justice, equality before the law and accountability.''

    He called for regime opponents to enter into political talks, and urged Syrian exiles to return, pledging that "even the harshest opponent" of the regime will not be arrested.

    Opposition activists say more than 10,000 people have been arrested since the uprising began and more than 1,300 civilians killed. They say 300 soldiers and police have also been killed in the unrest.

    Expanding sanctions

    An EU official said on Wednesday that the European Union was planning to hit the Syrian regime with more sanctions, targeting seven more individuals and four companies.

    The official said the expanded list of individuals and companies under sanctions should be approved by late on Thursday when EU leaders open a summit.

    The new sanctions will bring to 34 the number of people and entities that are hit with an asset freeze and travel ban. The EUnion also has an embargo on sales of arms and equipment that can be used to suppress demonstrations. 

    Later on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he did not see "much credibility" in Assad's reform pledges, "because the situation has been continuing."

    Ban said he took note "in a positive way" of Assad's announcement of a general amnesty and a promise of reforms and national dialogue in a speech on Monday, but added that any measures Assad takes "should lead to genuinely inclusive dialogue."

    Ban suggested unified Security Council action to pressure Syria "would be helpful." Russia and China have opposed such action.

    A senior Western diplomat said on Wednesday that Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, backed by
    Washington, are continuing to negotiate on a draft resolution to condemn Syria's crackdown.

    Activists said Syrian security forces shot dead seven people on Tuesday after government supporters and opponents clashed in three cities.


    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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