French foreign minister says Assad 'must go as quickly as possible'


The Syrian government’s crackdown has been condemned by French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who called for regime change as five members of the same family were slain in an air raid near Damascus.

“The situation is horrific”, and president Bashar al-Assad “must go as quickly as possible”, said Mr Fabius, adding that the Syrian opposition’s main backers would meet in Paris on January 28th.

Mr Fabius’s remarks appeared to be in response to comments made on Saturday by his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem who said demands that Dr Assad stand down are “unacceptable”. He called on the nationalist opposition to disarm and enter talks to form a new government and added that opposition groups that rejected foreign intervention would be welcome.

The foreign ministry also denounced a petition from 58 countries asking for Syria to be investigated for war crimes and condemned their refusal “to recognise the duty of the Syrian state to protect its people”.

The western-sponsored National Coalition – which insists that Dr Assad must leave office before there can be talks – met in Istanbul at the weekend to discuss the formation of a transitional government.

Coalition member Kamal Labwani said the western-sponsored umbrella group needed to name a prime minister to serve as an executive to complement the legislature constituted by the 70 member coalition. Mr Labwani said he would nominate defected prime minister Riad Hijab for the post.

However, the proposal has been criticised and the Muslim Brotherhood, the coalition’s largest faction, opposes the formation of a government at present despite western and Arab pressure to take this step.

Mass killing

Failure to reach an agreement could undermine the coalition’s credibility, which comprises competing expatriate factions and personalities with tenuous links to the political opposition inside Syria and rebels fighting the Syrian military.

Meanwhile, the UN Fund for Children (Unicef) denounced last week’s violence in which dozens of children were slain. A mass killing outside Homs was cited as “horrific”.

Unicef has urged that civilians be spared, particularly children. More than half the 600,000 Syrian refugees in neighbouring states are under the age of 18.