Middle East

Syria crisis: China defends veto of UN resolution

Anti-government protesters near Damascus. Photo: 4 February 2012
Image caption Violence in Syria has continued unabated for nearly a year

Chinese state-run media have defended Beijing's veto of a UN resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on anti-government protesters.

China's top newspapers said the Western push for a regime change in Syria was erroneous, citing previous campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

The US earlier described as a "travesty" the veto by China and Russia of the UN resolution over the weekend.

In Syria, government troops have continued attacks on the city of Homs.

Mortar bombs were falling steadily - about a minute apart - on Sunday, the BBC's Paul Wood in the central Syrian city reports.

Burials were talking place at night, local officials told our correspondent, as it was too dangerous to do it in daylight because of snipers.

At least 28 civilians were killed by security forces across Syria on Sunday, mainly in Homs, said the London-based campaign group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

One report quoting the group said an equivalent number of Syrian troops were also killed.

Human rights groups and activists say more than 7,000 people have been killed by Syrian security forces since the uprising began in March.

The UN stopped estimating the death toll in Syria after it passed 5,400 in January, saying it was too difficult to confirm.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says at least 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed fighting "armed gangs and terrorists".

'Seeds of disaster'

"The draft resolution that sought to realise a regime change in Syria did not adequately reflect the state of affairs" in the country, the China Daily newspaper wrote in its editorial on Monday.

"By only exerting pressure on the Syrian government and explicitly trying to coerce its leader Assad to step down, the resolution sends the message to armed groups and opponents of his regime that they have the support of the international community.

"This will undoubtedly make the Syrian situation even more complicated," the article said.

The newspaper went on by citing the Libyan example, saying that the overthrow of Col Muammar Gaddafi's regime did not bring "democracy and freedom" to Libyans, but pushed the country close to "falling into a sectarian civil war".

Meanwhile, a commentary in the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of China's ruling Communist Party, said: "Vetoing the draft Security Council resolution does not mean we are giving free rein to letting this heart-rending state of affairs to continue."

Earlier, Russia also defended its decision to veto the UN draft resolution, saying the proposal was unbalanced.

'Licence to kill'

The double veto by Beijing and Moscow on Saturday drew an angry reaction from around the world.

"What happened... at the United Nations was a travesty," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

"Faced with a neutered Security Council, we have to redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations with those allies and partners who support the Syrian people's right to have a better future," she added.

Analysts say Mrs Clinton appeared to be alluding to the formation of a grouping of nations similar to the Contact Group on Libya. That group - a collection of Arab and other countries - oversaw international help for opponents of late Col Gaddafi.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called the Russian-Chinese veto a "moral stain" on the UN. He said Europe would strengthen sanctions against Syria and eventually "the regime will have to realise that it is completely isolated and cannot continue".

The draft resolution - which had already been watered down in an apparent attempt to overcome Russian objections - was supported by 13 of the 15 members of the UN Security Council, when it was put to a vote.

The Syrian National Council, the biggest opposition group, said Russia and China were "responsible for the escalating acts of killing", calling the veto "an irresponsible step that is tantamount to a licence to kill with impunity".

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the two countries were making a "great mistake", accusing them of "turning their backs on the Arab world".

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the Russians do seem to be feeling the pressure. They are sending their Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, to talk to President Assad in Damascus on Tuesday.

Russia would like to help mediate a political solution, but the opposition do not see the Russians as honest brokers, our correspondent says.

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