EU reiterates that Assad must 'step aside'

The European Union reiterated Sunday that President Basahar al-Assad must step aside to allow a political settlement after the Syrian leader called for a national dialogue in a much-awaited speech in Damascus.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a short statement: "We will look carefully if there is anything new in the speech but we maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition."

The 27-nation bloc first demanded Assad step down in mid-August 2011, just a few months after the beginning of the uprising against his regime.

Ashton at the time said that "the EU notes the complete loss of Bashar al-Assad's legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people and the necessity for him to step aside."

The EU has imposed 19 rounds of sanctions against the Damascus regime since the 21-month conflict began in March 2011, including a wide range of trade and financial measures as well as an arms embargo.

A total 54 companies and 181 people, including members of Assad's inner circle, are on an EU blacklist subjected to an assets freeze and travel ban.

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