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Syrian Protesters Urge Russia to Play Bigger Role in Middle East

Syrian opposition leaders want Russia to be more active in mediating an end to unrest in the Middle Eastern country and to back the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.

“The development of the Russian position is slower than we hope,” Ammar Qurabi, chairman of the executive bureau of the Syrian Conference for Change, an exile group, said in an interview today in Moscow. “Events on the ground are faster than we hope.”

Qurabi led a delegation of Assad’s opponents, who met with Mikhail Margelov, President Dmitry Medvedev’s envoy to Africa and the Middle East, in the upper house of the Russian parliament. Today’s meeting was the second between the representatives of the opposition and Russian authorities since anti-government rallies began in Syria in mid-March.

“Our hopes are not too great,” said Qurabi, who is also head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. “At least we have a few hopes,” including the possibility Russia can persuade Assad to step down.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with Assad’s media adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, next week. She is one of three Syrian officials who are the target of sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Syria’s opposition won’t meet with Assad’s representatives, according to Qurabi, who said he welcomes Margelov’s initiative to send a group of Russian senators on a monitoring mission to Syria. Senators will seek permission from Assad’s representatives for their mission, Margelov said.

Political Solution

The senators want to “see with their own eyes what is going on on the ground,” Margelov told journalists. “With pain we see the escalation of the violence in Syria,” he said, adding that protesters would consider a political solution to the crisis.

Medvedev said Russia may back a “variety of approaches” provided any measures target both sides of the conflict.

“They should not be based on a unilateral condemnation of the government,” Medvedev told Euronews in Yaroslavl, Russia, where he attended a global policy forum yesterday, according to a transcript of the interview released by the Kremlin. “They must send a convincing message to all the parties to the conflict.”

The European Union tightened sanctions against Assad’s government last week, banning imports of crude oil from Syria after Russia blocked efforts by the EU and the U.S. to impose punitive measures through the United Nations. The efforts haven’t halted the crackdown on what the Syrian administration calls foreign-backed terrorism.

“There are very different people among them,” Medvedev said. “Some of them are extremists, and some can even be called terrorists.”

Qurabi said the violence in Syria “came from that regime.”

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