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Russia warns Syrian leader he may face 'sad fate'
Medvedev says Syria's leader will face a 'sad fate' if he fails to talk with his opponents
By The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) ' Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday he has 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.

In remarks carried by Russian news agencies, Medvedev said he has delivered this message to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

An offensive by Syrian forces against anti-government dissent in the city of Hama, backed by tanks and snipers, has killed scores of people since Sunday.

"Regrettably, large numbers of people are dying there. That causes us grave concern," Medvedev was quoted as saying.

"That's why both on a personal level and in the letters I sent to him (Assad) I have emphasized that it's necessary to urgently conduct reforms, negotiate with the opposition, restore civil peace, and create a modern state."

"If he fails to do that, he will face a sad fate. And in the end we will also have to make some decisions. We are watching how the situation is developing. It's changing, and our approach is changing as well."

Medvedev and Russia's most powerful politician, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, have long urged Assad to find a compromise with the opposition. In June, Putin warned Assad against using "political instruments of 40 years ago." But at the same time, Moscow had warned the West against interfering with Syrian affairs and objected to a U.N. resolution.

U.S. and European members of the U.N. Security Council had been pressing for months for a legally binding resolution that would strongly condemn Syria.

In the U.S., the Obama administration moved to further isolate Assad and his inner circle for their brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters by imposing sanctions on a prominent pro-regime businessman and his firm.

Thursday's sanctions against Assad family confidante Muhammad Hamsho and his firm, Hamsho International Group, freeze any assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them. Hamsho's holding company has about 20 subsidiaries ranging from construction, civil engineering, telecommunications and hotels to carpet sales, horse trading and ice cream production.

Russia ' which has had close political ties with Syria since Soviet times and provided it with weapons ' had urged Assad to find a compromise with the opposition but warned that the West shouldn't interfere in Syrian affairs with such a resolution.

But on Wednesday, after Russia and other countries dropped their long-standing opposition, the U.N. Security Council finally responded to the escalating violence in Syria by condemning Assad's forces for attacking civilians and committing human rights violations.

The presidential statement adopted by the council, which is weaker than a legally binding resolution, urges Syrian authorities to immediately end all violence and launch an inclusive political process that will allow the Syrian people to fully exercise "fundamental freedoms ... including that of expression and peaceful assembly."

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Thursday called for a special U.N. envoy on Syria to be named and immediately dispatched "to bring the clear message of the international community to Damascus."

Amnesty International criticized the U.N. Security Council for not being tougher.

Jose Luis Diaz, the human rights group's U.N. representative, called the council statement "completely inadequate," saying members should have adopted a legally binding resolution imposing an arms embargo on Syria, freezing Assad's assets and referring the crackdown against protesters to the International Criminal Court.

Diaz also criticized the council for failing to support a U.N. Human Rights Council fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate the violence. Syrian authorities have refused to allow the U.N. delegation into the country.

In a lonely show of support for Damascus, Cuba's Foreign Ministry on Thursday accused the West of pressuring the U.N. into adopting decisions against the Syrian government.

"Cuba reiterates its confidence in the ability of the Syrian people and government to resolve their internal problems with no foreign interference," the statement said.


Matthew Lee in Washington, Edith M. Lederer and Anita Snow at the United Nations and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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