Oct. 13 (Bloomberg) -- The European Union expanded sanctions against Syria in a push to end a violent crackdown on opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, freezing the assets of an organization affiliated with his government.
The move brings to 19 the number of Syrian groups blacklisted by the EU, which said it will release the name of the organization tomorrow. The EU announcement came as Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers in London that Britain had summoned Syria’s ambassador to warn him against the intimidation of Syrians in the U.K. who oppose Assad’s rule.
“Today’s decision is a direct consequence of the appalling and brutal campaign the Syrian regime is waging against its own people,” the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said in an e-mailed statement from Brussels. “Our measures are not aimed at the Syrian people, but aim to deprive the regime of financial revenues and the support base necessary to maintain the repression.”
Protests to demand Assad’s ouster started in March as part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa this year that has unseated governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Assad has blamed the demonstrations in Syria on foreign- backed extremists. At least 4,000 Syrian civilians have been killed by security forces, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.
“We will go on working with other nations to intensify the pressure on the regime,” Hague said. He reiterated calls by the EU and the U.S. for Assad to step down, saying, “Too much blood has been spilled for this regime to recover its credibility.”
‘Further Measures’ Possible
Ashton said the EU “will consider further measures in the light of development” in Syria “to support the Syrian people as they seek to decide their country’s future through peaceful and democratic means.”
Britain began courting members of the Syrian National Council, which seeks to unite opponents of Assad, as thousands rallied yesterday in support of the Syrian leader in the capital, Damascus, amid the mounting international pressure on his government. The council’s representatives met this week with officials in France, Sweden and Egypt to seek recognition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
The leaders of the SNC, formed Oct. 2, are trying to follow the path taken by Libya’s former rebels, whose National Transitional Council became the main governing authority in the North African country in August after Muammar Qaddafi’s overthrow. The Syrian group, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, aims to coordinate the struggle to end Assad’s 11- year rule while calling for peaceful means to oust him.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, yesterday stressed the need for the violence in Syria to end and called on the government to engage in a dialogue with the opposition council.
The SNC “is an important step,” the emir said, according to the state-run Qatar News Agency. “It is to the benefit of the Syrian government if it’s able to sit down and reach an understanding with the council on a new constitution that preserves the nation,” he said. “I think this council now has almost the legitimacy of the protesters in Syria.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem said Oct. 9 his government would retaliate with “severe” measures if any country formally recognized the opposition umbrella group.
--With assistance from James G. Neuger in Brussels, Robert Hutton in London and Robert Tuttle in Doha, Qatar. Editors: Heather Langan, Jennifer M. Freedman
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