France says Syria situation stagnant

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iol news pic jan24 Syria 2 REUTERS Free Syrian Army fighters stand in front of buildings destroyed by Syrian Army air strikes in the Arabeen neighbourhood of Damascus January 24, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Paris - The French foreign minister said on Thursday there was no sign the Syrian crisis was going to be resolved anytime soon, in contrast to his prediction last month that the end was near for President Bashar al-Assad.

“Things are not moving. The solution that we had hoped for, and by that I mean the fall of Bashar and the arrival of the coalition to power, has not happened,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in his annual New Year's address to the press.

The uprising against Assad's rule is now in its 22nd month. More than 60 000 Syrians have been killed and another 650 000 are now refugees abroad, according to the United Nations.

France, a former colonial ruler of Syria, has been one of the most vocal backers of the rebels trying to topple Assad and was the first to recognise the opposition coalition.

Fabius told RFI radio in December “the end is nearing” for Assad. On Thursday, he said international mediation and discussions about the crisis that began in March 2011 were not getting anywhere.

“There are no recent positive signs,” he said.

He said Syrian opposition leaders and representatives of some 50 nations and organisations would meet in Paris on Jan. 28 to discuss how to fulfill previous commitments. He did not elaborate.

While France has ruled out sending the rebels weapons, it has pushed the European Union to review its arms embargo.

Syrian state television showed footage of Assad at a mosque service on Thursday celebrating the birth of Prophet Mohammad.

Dressed in a suit and clean-shaven, the president and Syrian officials sat down for the service. Assad then shook hands with government members and smiled but did not make a speech.

Paris and other Western allies have so far failed to convince Russia and China, who have continued to support Assad, to change their stance.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister scoffed at the idea of a negotiated settlement to the crisis. - Reuters

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