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France recalls ambassador to Damascus


France has decided to withdraw its ambassador from Syria, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.

"Faced with the worsening repression being carried out by the Damascus regime against its own population, French authorities have decided to recall France's ambassador to Syria for consultations," Bernard Valero said.

"We have begun discussions with our partners in Brussels to reinforce sanctions once again," he added.

Paris's decision came after Italy, Britain and the United States also withdrew their envoys. Valero said the French ambassador would be back in Paris "within the next few days".

Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was visiting Syria, and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a new initiative "with those countries who stand by the Syrian people, not the regime."

Valero said France was following Turkey's plan carefully, but so far had little information about it. He called on Lavrov to use Russia's influence to pressure Syria into accepting a regional peace plan.

"We expect Mr Lavrov will use his visit to Damascus to make the regime understand its isolation and to support the Arab League plan, a brave initiative that must be the basis of any solution," he said.

The spokesman noted that on Monday, France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe had met with the leadership of the Syrian opposition in exile and had called regional leaders to discuss the crisis.

No plans to recall envoy: EU

The European Union has no plans to withdraw its head of delegation from Syria, a spokesman said Tuesday, stressing that the EU needs a presence there to "report and observe".

"We have no plan at all from the (EU) External Action Service to withdraw our head of delegation in Damascus at this point in time," Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told a news briefing.

"We believe it's important to have people on the ground particularly as there is no free press in the country so that we can report and observe what is going on," he said.

The EU's representative in Syria, Vassilis Bontosoglou, has been in Damascus since 2007.

Mann said the EU's foreign service will continue "to do everything we can diplomatically" with the 27 EU states and international partners "to try and bring an end to this totally unacceptable situation."

The EU continues to support Arab League efforts to end the nearly year-old crackdown, the spokesman said.

"We think that this should be an Arab-led process," Mann said. "We call upon the international community to take its responsibilities and to have an international solution to this problem."