Russia calls for time for dialogue in Syria

February 8, 2012

Russia’s top diplomat said Wednesday that the international community should allow more time for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to conduct a dialogue with the opposition groups whose insurgency it has tried to crush.

Speaking in Moscow a day after talks with Assad on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed the Syrian president’s willingness to engage in a national dialogue, even though an overwhelming majority of members of the opposition, both inside and outside the country, have said that dialogue is no longer an option.

Assad’s critics cite the heavy-handed response of the Syrian military and security forces to the 11-month uprising against his government. Western nations and many Arab countries have condemned the response, which the United Nations estimates has left more than 5,400 people dead.

“These people are living in an alternate reality,” said Yaser Tabbara, a leader of the prominent Syrian National Council opposition group, speaking from Chicago. “The entire world is moving in one direction, and they are moving in a direction that completely shows that they are absolutely out of touch.”

Lavrov also said Wednesday that the abrupt departures from Syria in recent days of the U.S., French, British and Persian Gulf country ambassadors — some temporarily and others permanently — were irrational and did not “contribute to the implementation of the Arab League plan to resolve the crisis,” Syrian state media reported.

Meanwhile, accounts from the embattled city of Homs suggested that a six-day bombardment of opposition-dominated neighborhoods was continuing. Some activists said it was difficult to specify the number of people killed Wednesday because it was too dangerous to go out and count bodies, but several residents said that more than 40 people had been reported killed and that they expected the number to rise.

Amid growing international condemnation of the events in Syria, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, called Wednesday for “a sustained effort, for as long as it takes, to bring justice to all those who have been victims of the gross and systematic crimes taking place in Syria today.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose government has been sharply critical of Assad, meanwhile called for an international conference to discuss the Syrian crisis. He proposed holding the conference in Turkey.

“We will start a new initiative with those countries who stand by the Syrian people, not the regime,” Davutoglu said in a televised interview, according to wire reports.

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