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Russia Denounces 'Friends Of Syria' Conference


United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria Kofi Annan is due to brief the UN Security Council on whether Damascus is moving toward implementing his peace plan.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has denounced the international "Friends of Syria" meeting in Istanbul, saying it contradicted the objective of reaching a peaceful settlement to the yearlong conflict that has left thousands of people dead.

Arab and Western states, including the United States, on April 1 pledged to provide millions of dollars and communications equipment to Syrian opposition groups.

The meeting also recognized the opposition Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of all Syrians.

The pledges came as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad faced criticism for failing to implement proposals from United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan aimed at ending the bloodshed.

Annan was due to brief the UN Security Council on the status of his peace initiative later on April 2.

Russia, a longtime Syria ally, is a major arms supplier to Syria's government and occupies a naval base on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

Russia and China have twice blocked UN Security Council resolutions that would have condemned Assad's regime for its crackdown on opponents.

Neither Russia nor China took part in the Istanbul conference.

'World Will Not Waiver'

Conference participants said Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries were creating a fund to provide money to fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States would be providing communications equipment to regime opponents to "help activists organize, evade attacks by the regime, and connect to the outside world."

Clinton also said Assad must be given a deadline to implement Annan's proposals.

"So today we called for an immediate end to the killing in Syria and we urged the joint special envoy Kofi Annan to set a timetable for next steps," Clinton said.

"The world will not waiver. Assad must go and the Syrian people must be free to choose their own path forward."

Syrian Violence Continues

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said only the UN Security Council could set a time frame in which the Syrian government has to comply with Annan's plan.

Lavrov, speaking on a visit to Armenia on April 2, said the peace plan would not work unless opposition fighters also agreed to a cease-fire.

Assad has announced that he agrees to Annan's proposals. Despite the announcement, his forces have continued their campaign to crush the opposition.

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed since protests against Assad's regime began just over a year ago.

The "Friends of Syria" forum met for the first time in Tunisia in February.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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