Anger as UN Syria plan vetoed


Western and Arab countries responded with outrage today after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have urged Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to give up power.

The US ambassador to the United Nations said she was "disgusted" by the vote, which came a day after activists say Syrian forces bombarded the city of Homs, killing more than 250 people in the worst night of bloodshed of the 11-month uprising.

"Any further bloodshed that flows will be on their hands," US ambassador Susan Rice said after the Russian-Chinese veto.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton called the veto a "travesty".

British foreign minister William Hague said Moscow and Beijing had turned their backs on the Arab world. France's Alain Juppe said they “carried a terrible responsibility in the eyes of the world and Syrian people”.

All 13 other members of the Security Council voted to back the resolution, which would have "fully supported" an Arab League plan under which Dr Assad should cede powers to a deputy, withdraw troops from towns and begin a transition to democracy.

Russia said the resolution was biased and would promote "regime change." Syria is Moscow's rare ally in the Middle East, home to a Russian naval base and a customer for its arms.

The Syrian National Council, which represents major opposition groups, said it holds Moscow and Beijing "responsible for the escalating acts of killing and genocide; it considers this an irresponsible step that is tantamount to a license to kill with impunity”.

The Security Council's sole Arab member, Morocco, voiced "great regret and disappointment" at the veto. Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki and said the Arabs had no intention of abandoning their plan.

Syrian UN envoy Bashar Ja'afari criticised the resolution and its sponsors, which included Saudi Arabia and seven other Arab states, saying nations "that prevent women from attending a soccer match" had no right to preach democracy to Syria.

He also denied that Syrian forces killed hundreds of civilians in Homs, saying that "no sensible person" would launch such an attack the night before the Security Council was set to discuss his country.

In Syria today, state television showed live footage of Dr Assad praying with Sunni Muslim clerics and listening to the recitation of the Koran in a Damascus mosque to mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad.

Much of the opposition to Dr Assad is rooted in the Sunni majority, some of whose members resent the wide influence of members of Dr Assad's Alawite sect.

Residents of Homs's battered Baba Amro district, speaking by telephone, denounced the Russian-Chinese veto, some chanting, "Death, rather than disgrace."

One resident who identified himself as Sufyan said: "Now we will show Assad. We're coming, Damascus. Starting today we will show Assad what an armed gang is." Assad has called his opponents "armed gangs" and "terrorists" steered from abroad.

Russia's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, accused the resolution's backers of "calling for regime change, pushing the opposition towards power and not stopping their provocations and feeding armed struggle."

"Some influential members of the international community, unfortunately including those sitting around this table, from the very beginning of the Syrian process have been undermining the opportunity for a political settlement," he said. Moscow is sending foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to Damascus on Tuesday.