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Diplomats say wife, other relatives of Syria's Assad given travel bans, assets freezes
BRUSSELS (AP) ' EU foreign ministers on Friday imposed sanctions on the wife and three other close relatives of Syrian President Bashar Assad, freezing their assets and banning them from traveling to the EU in a continuing attempt to stop the violent crackdown on opposition.
Also Friday, the United Nations' top human rights body sharply condemned the crackdown and the U.N. announced that the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, would travel to Russia and China for more talks aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis.
The U.N. estimates that more than 8,000 people have been killed since an uprising began in Syria a year ago.
Four members of the Assad family and eight government ministers were targeted Friday by the EU the officials said. Three officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision that will be announced later Friday following the foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.
In addition, the assets of two Syrian companies have been frozen, an EU official said.
The EU has imposed 12 previous rounds of sanctions against the Syrian regime, so far with no appreciable effect on its behavior. The crackdown has only intensified.
Asma Assad, 36, the president's wife, was born in London, spent much of her life there, and has British citizenship. However, Nigel Kusher, a British lawyer who is an expert on sanctions, said he believes she is now effectively banned from traveling there.
"No EU national and no EU company can make any funds or any economic resources available to Asma al-Assad, nor can anyone receive funds or economic resources from her," Kushner said. "And that means that, essentially, she won't be able to go on any shopping trips in the EU or via third parties."
"To the extent she has any bank accounts in the EU, her assets will be frozen," Kushner said ' a sanction that would prevent her from selling property, receiving rent, or anything similar.
Annan and two aides will go to Moscow and Beijing to press the case for his six-point plan, his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said. Western countries have pushed for U.N. Security Council action, but Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions criticizing Assad's regime.
"Negotiations are at a very delicate stage. He's not going to mediate through the media," Fawzi said. "The crisis on the ground is severe. We have to make progress on the ground soon. Every minute counts."
Fawzi told reporters Friday that Annan's team is "currently studying the Syrian responses carefully and negotiations with Damascus continue."
On Wednesday, the U.N.'s Security Council issued a nonbinding statement calling for a cease-fire and endorsing Annan's plan, which includes continued talks and a daily two-hour halt in the fighting to provide aid.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking in Brussels, where the EU foreign ministers are meeting, said Friday it was very important to increase pressure on the Syrian regime.
"Their behavior continues to be murdering and totally unacceptable in the eyes of the world," he said on his way into the meeting.
In Geneva, on Friday, the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council voted 41 to three in favor of an EU-sponsored resolution that was backed by Arab nations and the United States. China, Russia and Cuba voted against. Two countries abstained and one didn't vote.
The resolution condemned "widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms perpetrated by the Syrian authorities" including summary executions, torture and sexual abuse of detainees and children, and other abuses.
It also condemned "the deliberate destruction of hospitals and clinics, the obstruction and denial of medical assistance to the injured and sick, and the raids and killing of wounded protesters in both public and private hospitals."
The vote also extended the mandate of a U.N. expert panel charged with reporting on alleged abuses in the country.
Syria's ambassador Fayssal al-Hamwi rejected Friday's vote as "biased."
"It does not reflect the reality on the ground, on the contrary," he told the meeting.
The council's decisions aren't legally binding, but they are seen as an important indicator of the international community's stance on human rights issues.
Heilprin reported from Geneva. Raf Casert in Brussels and Robert Barr in London contributed to this report.
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