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Russia boycotts Friends of Syria meeting

After Russia and China vetoed a UN petition for Al-Assad to step down, they now also keep their distance from Friday's Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia

AFP , Tuesday 21 Feb 2012
Demonstrators shout anti-Russia slogans, as one of them holds pictures of Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, during a protest against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in front of the Beyazit mosque in Istanbul February 17, (Photo: Reuters).
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Russia on Tuesday said it would not attend an international conference in Tunis this week aimed at seeking political change in Syria because the meeting only supported the opposition's cause.

The meeting was called "for the purpose of supporting one side against another in an internal conflict," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "We cannot accept the offer to attend this meeting."

The Friends of Syria group will meet for the first time on Friday after being created in a response to a joint veto by Russia and China of a UN Security Council resolution condemning President Bashar Al-Assad for the violence.

The group is backed by members of the European Union as well as some Arab nations and the United States.

Russia's statement said the meeting would be unable to help establish dialogue between Al-Assad's government and protesters on ways of ending 11 months of violence that opposition sources say have killed more than 6,000 people.

"The invitations to attend the Tunis meeting were issued to some parts of the opposition, but representatives of the Syrian government were not invited," the statement said.

"This means that the interests of the majority of the Syrian population, which supports the authorities, will not be represented."

But Russia also said it was interested in providing humanitarian assistance "to all those who need it" and called on the Security Council to ask Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to send a special envoy to Damascus.

"Russia proposes that the Security Council entrust the UN Secretary General to send a special representative to agree security measures for delivering humanitarian assistance," the foreign ministry said on in its Twitter page.

Russia has emerged as the Assad government's closest international ally and its support for humanitarian assistance puts pressure on the regime to open the border to foreign supplies.

The ministry's proposal came one day after the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was "exploring several possibilities" for delivering aid to Syria.

China also refused to commit to attend the conference.

"China has received the relevant invitation," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing.

"The Chinese side is currently researching the function, mechanism and other aspects of the meeting."

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