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Britain's Foreign Office says that Syria's most senior diplomat in London has defected in protest against the "violent and oppressive" acts of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Khaled al-Ayoubi, the charge d'affaires in London, told British officials that he was not willing to represent Assad's regime any longer.

Al-Ayoubi joined the Syrian diplomatic service in 2001.

His first posting was in Greece as consul from 2003 to 2008.

Defections are becoming a growing problem for Assad's regime, which has launched a bloody crackdown on a revolt in which, activists say, more than 20,000 people have died since March 2011.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP