UK doubles aid to Syria opposition groups

William Hague
Image caption William Hague said the aid would help to provide training for activists and citizen journalists

The UK is to double its non-military aid to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

He said the extra £500,000 will help groups both inside and outside Syria.

Mr Hague used his annual Mansion House speech in the City of London to urge President Assad to accept he has no hope of political survival.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed during a year-long Syrian revolt.

The foreign secretary is working to boost Syria's opposition at a moment when new diplomacy offers hope - however uncertain - that President Assad may be pushed into change.

Mr Hague told his audience, including dozens of foreign ambassadors in London, that the UK will give opposition groups extra help worth £500,000.

It will include more training for activists and citizen journalists to help them get their stories out of Syria, and possibly secure phones to make the co-ordination of protest safer.

Civil society groups will also be given more assistance gathering evidence of atrocities for possible future trials.

Mr Hague warned the regime its reliance on violence was not only morally indefensible, it was futile.

'Economic disarray'

He said: "President Assad and his allies may look at the rubble of Homs, the abandoned streets of Idlib and Syria's overflowing prisons and they may entertain hopes of political survival.

"But they cannot avoid ever greater numbers of Syrians wanting a better future, and rejecting the bloodshed, insecurity and economic disarray their leaders have brought upon them."

Mr Hague said he expected the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul on Sunday to adopt new measures to increase pressure on the regime and boost Kofi Annan's diplomatic mission.

The foreign secretary did acknowledge President Assad's apparent willingness to accept Mr Annan's UN plan, but he said the regime needed to convince a sceptical world and a wounded Syrian people.

On Thursday, Arab states meeting in Baghdad called for the immediate implementation of the plan, which would see a UN-monitored end to fighting, troops pulled out of opposition areas and access for humanitarian services.

At the same meeting, Iraq's PM Nouri al-Maliki warned that arming either side in Syria would lead to a "proxy war".

Syria's opposition leaders are so far refusing to contemplate any negotiations which could leave President Assad in power and he is warning that his participation in a UN peace plan may depend on foreign governments ending all support for his opponents, whom he calls terrorists.

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