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Russia against Western calls for Assad to resign
Russia cautions encouraging Syrian opposition, says doesn't support calls for Assad to resign
By The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) ' Russia's Foreign Ministry on Friday cautioned the West against encouraging the Syrian opposition, and said it doesn't support Western calls for President Bashar Assad to resign.

Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement that Russia believes Assad must be given sufficient time to fulfill promises of reform as he has already made "some significant steps" ' including lifting the state of emergency and issuing a decree allowing peaceful demonstrations.

He added that Russia disagrees with the United States and the European Union, who have urged Assad to step down.

Lukashevich said Russia is concerned about the situation in Syria, and reports of "people dying there."

He described Syria as "one of the fulcrums of the Middle East," adding that "its destabilization would have the gravest consequences for the entire region," and called for the international community to give Syrians a "clear and unequivocal signal about the need to end all kind of violence."

His call for an end to the violence, however, was not just aimed at Assad.The opposition, he said, must be encouraged to "enter a dialogue with authorities and disassociate itself from the extremists."

"Our deep belief is that radical forces that are stirring up tensions in Syria mustn't be encouraged from the outside," Lukashevich said.

Russia, which had close political and military ties with Syria during Soviet times, has opposed a Western push for sanctions against Assad's regime.

Moscow also has continued to provide Syria with weapons despite U.S. and Israeli protests. On Thursday, the chief of Russia's state arms trader Rosoboronexport, Anatoly Isaikin, said Moscow will keep supplying combat jets and other military gear to Syria under contracts totaling about $3.5 billion (euro2.43 billion).

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had said earlier this month that he had warned Syria's leader that he will face a "sad fate" if he fails to introduce reforms in his country and open a peaceful dialogue with the opposition.

Medvedev also signaled that Russia may change its approach to Syria if Assad fails to conduct reforms.

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