By Suzan Fraser, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press
ANKARA, Turkey – European countries criticized Russia and China on Wednesday for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that threatened sanctions against Syria if it didn’t halt its crackdown on civilians.
Turkey’s prime minister said his nation and others would respond by imposing more sanctions of their own against Syria.
Russia and China on Tuesday vetoed what would have been the first legally binding Security Council resolution against Syria since President Bashar Assad‘s military began using tanks and soldiers to attack pro-democracy protesters in mid-March. The U.N. estimates the crackdown has led to more than 2,700 deaths.
Russia and China both said they oppose the crackdown but that sanctions wouldn’t help resolve the crisis. The U.N. vote was 9-2 with four abstentions — India, South Africa, Brazil and Lebanon.
On Wednesday, Germany, France, Britain, Denmark and the EU joined Turkey in denouncing the veto, with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe sounding outraged.
Juppe denounced Assad as a “dictator who is massacring his people” and vowed support for Syrians trying to overthrow the head of the former French colony. Juppe’s strongly worded English-language statement was highly unusual.
The EU and the U.S. have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Assad and his regime, including a ban on the import of Syrian oil. Most of Syria’s oil exports had gone to Europe. Now Damascus is forced to look for buyers in the east.
“Turkey and either some or all of the European Union nations, and who knows which others, will take steps,” the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Erdogan as saying. “It won’t stop our sanctions.”
Germany sharply criticized the veto by Russia and China, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle saying it was a “really sad day for international law and for human rights, too.”
Westerwelle said Western nations would maintain pressure on Assad and that European countries are preparing an eighth package of sanctions against Syria.
At the U.N. on Tuesday, the European sponsors of the resolution tried to avoid a veto by watering down the language on sanctions three times, to the point where the word “sanctions” was taken out entirely. But that failed.
“We have absolutely no understanding for the fact the U.N. Security Council was unable to agree in New York, even on a very much weakened statement,” Westerwelle said in Berlin.
“We will — not just in Europe, but also with our partners — not only keep up the pressure on the Assad regime, but increase it further if the killing and violence against peaceful demonstrators continues,” he said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told a rally of his governing Conservative Party in that Beijing and Moscow were wrong to oppose the proposed resolution.
“The decision of Russia and China to veto this resolution and to side with a brutal regime rather than the people of Syria is deeply mistaken,” Hague said in England.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said through her spokesman that the bloc would now work to increase international pressure on Assad’s regime.
Denmark’s new foreign minister, Villy Soevndahl, said: “The Assad regime’s assault on civilians and brutal violation of basic human rights is utterly unacceptable.” He said the international community must find a way to speak in a single voice to maintain pressure on Assad and his government.
Turkey already has imposed an arms embargo on Syria, and Erdogan is expected to announce new sanctions on the neighbour country later this week when he visits camps near the border where some 7,500 Syrians have sought refuge from Assad’s brutal crackdown.
“Out of necessity our package of sanctions will come into effect,” Erdogan said. He did not provide details, but Turkish leaders have said that the measures would punish Syria’s leadership, not its people.
Turkey is an important trade partner for Syria, and Erdogan had cultivated a close friendship with Assad. But Turkish leaders have grown increasingly frustrated with Damascus over its refusal to halt the crackdown on the opposition protests.
The military has announced eight days of exercises in Hatay province, which borders Syria, starting Wednesday, to test the armed forces’ mobilization capability and communication among various state organizations. The military has described the drills as routine, but analysts said they were intended to increase pressure on Syria.