x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

EU imposes travel ban and assets freeze on Syria's Assad

German foreign minister declares: 'If someone represses his own people like that, responds to peaceful demonstrations with force, this can¿t be left unanswered by the European Union.'

BRUSSELS // The European Union imposed sanctions on the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, and other senior officials yesterday, raising pressure on his government to end weeks of violence against protesters.

EU foreign ministers agreed at a meeting in Brussels to expand restrictions against Syria by adding Mr al Assad and about a dozen other senior members of the government to a list of those banned from travelling to the EU and subject to asset freezes.

"Technically, the legal act has been accepted," one EU diplomat said, adding EU foreign ministers would still discuss the move at the meeting yesterday.

Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said it was necessary to move against Syria's top leaders. "If someone represses his own people like that, responds to peaceful demonstrations with force, this can't be left unanswered by the European Union," he said.

Syrian security forces killed six people in the city of Homs on Saturday during a funeral for those killed in the latest crackdown on protesters demonstrating against Mr al Assad's rule, witnesses said.

Human rights groups estimate that more than 700 civilians have been killed by security forces as they attempt to suppress nearly two months of popular protests that have spread from southern Syria to towns across the country.

Syrian authorities have blamed most of the violence on armed groups backed by Islamists and foreign powers who, they say, have killed more than 120 members of the security forces.

The Dutch foreign minister, Uri Rosenthal, said it was important to maintain pressure to ensure "fundamental change" in Syria.

He said imposing sanctions on Mr al Assad and his entourage was "a clear signal that we will not condone his policy of violence and repression".

"He has to make the choice now," he said. The British foreign secretary, William Hague, said extending sanctions to Mr al Assad was the right thing to do.

"The repression in Syria continues and it is important to see the right to peaceful process and the release of political prisoners and taking the path of reform, not repression," he said.

The United States extended sanctions to Mr al Assad and six senior officials on Wednesday in an escalation of pressure on his government to halt its crackdown on protesters.