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UN General Assembly Passes Syria Resolution

2/16/2012 6:13 PM ET

The UN General Assembly on Thursday voted to approve a resolution condemning the Syrian regime for its continued brutal suppression of a popular unrest in the Middle East nation, with 137 members voting in favor of the measure and twelve against.

The resolution also calls for the implementation of an Arab League plan, aimed at ending the ongoing bloodshed, within 15 days. The plan requires Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and authorize his deputy to initiate peace talks with the opposition for forming a national unity government

There were 17 abstentions in Thursday's vote. Unlike the UN Security Council (UNSC), resolutions cannot be vetoed in the General Assembly and are non-binding despite adoption by the Assembly.

Russia was among the members that voted against the resolution. Earlier in the day, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov had indicated that Moscow would oppose the resolution as it was very much similar to a measure vetoed by Russia and China at the UNSC earlier this month.

"We can't vote for that resolution, because it still remains unbalanced. It directs all the demands at the government, and says nothing about the opposition," Gatilov said.

Ahead of the vote, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in Vienna that the international community must act immediately and formulate a unified response to the ongoing violence in Syria. He also appealed to the Syrian authorities to stop "killing their own people."

Expressing regret at the UN Security Council's failure to adopt a resolution on Syria earlier this month due to Russian and Chinese vetoes, Ban said: "The lack of agreement in the Security Council does not give the government license to continue this assault on its own people."

The development comes just two weeks after China, along with Russia, vetoed a UN resolution endorsing the same Arab League plan for Syria when it was put to vote at the UN Security Council (UNSC) on February 4. Both Russia and China insisted that the plan amounted to regime change in Syria. The two nations had also jointly vetoed a Western resolution condemning repression in Syria in October.

Since the February 4 veto, Russia has since been attempting to mediate talks between the Syrian regime and opposition for a solution to the crisis. Further, China announced earlier on Thursday that it was sending Deputy Foreign Minister Zhai Jun to Syria for a two-day visit in an effort to find a resolution to the ongoing violence in the unrest-hit Middle East nation.

Notwithstanding past refusals by China and Russia to punish the Assad regime at the UNSC, the EU, the US and Turkey have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Syria. The US and the EU has already indicated that they aim to slam the Assad regime with tighter sanctions in wake of the Chinese and Russian vetoes in the recent UNSC vote.

The U.N. estimates that more than 5,400 people have died in Syria since pro-democracy protests broke out last March. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad , however, blames "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign mercenaries for the violence in the country. The Syrian government also warned against any foreign military intervention in the Middle East nation.

In wake of mounting international pressure, President Assad on Wednesday issued a decree for a referendum on a new draft constitution that ends nearly 50 years of single-party rule in the country. The opposition rejected the move as a ploy of the Syrian government to divert international attention from the ongoing brutal suppression of the unrest.

Reports emerging from Syria indicate that the regime is continuing to use tanks and hundreds of heavily-armed troops in military operations to put down the unrest in Homs as well as several other cities and towns. Activists say at least 40 people have been killed across Syria on Thursday alone, but such claims cannot be independently verified as most foreign media are barred from the country.

by RTT Staff Writer

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