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China Says It Backs Assad's Referendum Plan

A damaged building in the Bab Amr neighborhood of the flashpoint city of Homs shows signs of the violence there.
China says it backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's plans for a referendum to end the violence in his country.

"We hope that the referendum on the constitution and the parliamentary elections take place in a continuous way," Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said after meeting with Assad in Damascus on February 18.

Assad announced on February 15 his plan for a February 26 referendum on a new constitution, to be followed by a multiparty election. The planned referendum has been branded a sham by the Syrian opposition, which says the government will rig the results.

Zhai also called on all sides in Syria to stop the violence, saying Beijing was "extremely concerned" about the escalation of the crisis.

"China calls for a stop to the violence," he said. "It calls on all parties in Syria to come together for a dialogue, to talk together to reach a comprehensive political plan."

China's support for Assad's referendum plan comes as Beijing continues to stand by the Damascus regime in the crisis.

China and Russia have been Assad's most important international defenders during the crackdown on Syrian protestors which has killed several thousand people over the last 11 months and drawn condemnation from the United Nations and Western powers.

Beijing this week voted against a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria. The vote followed Beijing's recent veto of a similar resolution in the UN Security Council.

Zhai said upon his arrival in Syria that he would try to "play a positive role" and "make some contribution" to finding a "proper solution to the Syrian issue."

Zhai's meeting with Assad comes after talks in Paris on February 17, where French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron urged anti-Assad forces to unite and organize themselves better.

Meanwhile, activists say security forces opened fire on a crowd gathered for the funerals of demonstrators killed in protests in Damascus province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were casualties among the "thousands" attending the funerals in the Mazzeh district in the west of the capital but there were no immediate reports of fatalities.

On February 17 four people were killed when security forces fired on protesters during unprecedented demonstrations in well-to-do neighborhoods in the capital area.

Compiled from agency reports

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