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US lambasts Syria election at UN on 10th anniversary of war’s beginning

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Protesters wave flags of the Syrian opposition during a demonstration in Syria’s rebel-held city of Idlib on Monday, marking 10 years since the nationwide anti-government protests that sparked the country’s devastating civil war. AFP

US lambasts Syria election at UN on 10th anniversary of war’s beginning

The US ambassador to the UN urged the international community not to “be fooled” by Syria’s forthcoming presidential election during a Security Council meeting on March 15 on the 10th anniversary of the start of the conflict.

“These elections will neither be free nor fair. They will not legitimise the Assad regime,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, referring to president Bashar al-Assad.

The diplomat told council members the elections set for this summer “do not meet the criteria laid out in Resolution 2254 – including that they be supervised by the UN or conducted pursuant to a new constitution”.

Thomas-Greenfield said the US, which has the rotating presidency of the council, had decided to hold the monthly meeting on Syria on March 15 because it coincided with the anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in 2011.

The milestone prompted a statement from the US and its major European allies vowing solidarity with the Syrian people following years of “abuses, mass atrocities and grave violations of international law”, as well as widespread corruption and economic mismanagement.

The statement said: “We, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, will not abandon the Syrian people.

“Our nations commit to reinvigorating the pursuit of a peaceful solution which protects the rights and future prosperity of all Syrians . . . We cannot allow this tragedy to last another decade.”

Thomas-Greenfield’s Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia said the March 2011 unrest had been stirred up “by outside forces”, a common refrain used by Moscow.

“Their aim was to overthrow the legitimate Syrian authorities and reformat the country in their hands,” he said in Russian, calling for all foreign fighters to leave.

‘Syrians are really desperate’

France, which ran Syria from 1920 to 1946, stopped short of the US position of rejecting the election, calling instead for the vote to be credible.

Deputy French ambassador Nathalie Broadhurst said there would be “no settlement to the conflict” without “free and transparent elections under United Nations supervision”.

She added that Syria’s diaspora must also be allowed to vote.

The International Red Cross’s representative in Syria, Philip Spoerri, told reporters there was “political deadlock” and a “deep economic crisis” in the country.

“Syrians are really desperate,” he said, adding that children in refugee camps without school “have no future”.

US ambassador Thomas-Greenfield called on Assad’s regime to release “those who are arbitrarily detained – especially women, children and the elderly”.

Russia’s Nebenzia agreed that Syrians need “collective international aid”. Last year, Moscow forced reduced the number of entry points for aid into the country.

The only crossing point still in force – at the Turkish border – is authorised by the Security Council to run until July but Russia, Syria’s main ally, has hinted that it will oppose its renewal.

The UN’s Syria envoy, Geir Pedersen, pleaded for the creation of a “new international format” to relaunch a political solution to the conflict.

Referring to “key international players”, he said the format should include the US, Russia, Iran, Turkey, the EU and Arab countries, many of which are considering letting Syria back into the Arab League.

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