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Russia-Hosted Syria Conference Calls For 'Democratic' Path


Lavrov Heckled At Syria Peace Talks
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A conference in Russia aimed at helping resolve Syria's seven-year civil war concluded on January 30 with a final statement that endorsed the country's territorial integrity and called for self-determination through "democratic" elections.

Russia hosted what it called the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi with the primary aim of establishing a mechanism for drafting a new Syrian constitution.

But in a blow to Russia, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the talks were boycotted by the leadership of the Syrian opposition, while the United States, Britain, and France declined to attend because of what they said was Assad's refusal to properly engage.

The Sochi conference's final statement did not make reference to Assad, who has ruled Syria since 2000 when he took over the presidency from his father.

The statement called for the maintenance of Syria's security forces, but insisted they must "operate within the law."

The nearly 1,600 delegates -- representing organizations approved by the Syrian government, as well as the ruling Baath Party -- set up a 150-member committee charged with creating a draft constitution.

The West backs a separate UN-mediated peace process, which has so far failed to inch toward ending the war. The latest round of those talks took place in Vienna last week.

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French lawmakers on January 30 that the Syria peace process should take place under UN auspices and not under Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on January 30 read out a statement from President Vladimir Putin saying the conditions were ripe for Syria to turn "a tragic page" in its history.

But some participants heckled him, accusing Russia of killing civilians in Syria with its air strikes.

Participants who declined to be identified told Reuters that organizers had later been forced to suspend a plenary session due to squabbling among delegates over who would be chosen to preside over the congress.

In a further setback, one group of delegates, which included members of the armed opposition who had flown in from Turkey, refused to leave Sochi airport until Syrian government flags and emblems, which they said were offensive, were removed.

Turkish and Iranian government delegations attended the congress, as did UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa
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