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INTERNATIONAL > Hosting Assad must be joke, says Lavrov

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Russia confirmed yesterday receiving requests from its Western partners to help end the conflict in Syria by offering President Bashar al-Assad asylum, but said it had dismissed the idea as a joke.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the idea was first raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her June meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his first trip to Europe since his election to a third term. “Our side thought this was a joke and responded with a joke, how about you, the Germans, take Mr. Assad instead,” Lavrov said at a joint press appearance with his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle.

Lavrov said he was therefore “quite surprised” when the proposal was aired again during a meeting of Western and regional powers on the 16-month Syria crisis in Geneva last weekend.

“While discussing the subject of Syria, I heard them say they were convinced that we would take him and thus resolve all the problems of the Syrian people,” Lavrov said. “This is either a dishonest attempt to deceive serious people involved in foreign policy or a misunderstanding of the facts.” Westerwelle did not comment on Lavrov’s account of Merkel’s talks in Berlin with Putin while confirming that Germany and Russia had some fundamental disagreements on Syria.

Wikileaks begins publishing Syria files

Meanwhile, the WikiLeaks website said yesterday it had begun publishing more than 2 million emails from Syrian government officials that would embarrass not only Damascus, which is trying to crush a 16-month rebellion, but also its opponents.

WikiLeaks spokeswoman Sarah Harrison told a news conference the emails were from Syrian political figures, government ministries and companies, dating from August 2006 to March 2012. She read out a statement quoting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as saying: “The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents.”

 “It helps us not merely to criticise one group or another, but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts. It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it.” WikiLeaks said the emails, which it has called “The Syria Files,” would shine a light on the inner workings of the Syrian government and economy, and “also reveal how the West and Western companies say one thing and do another.” The emails are in several languages and include 68,000 in Russian. WikiLeaks said that although it had not yet verified all the emails due to their significant volume, it was “statistically confident” the vast majority of files were genuine.

 Assange himself has been holed-up in Ecuador’s embassy in London since he made a surprise application for political asylum last month. The Australian former computer hacker is wanted for questioning in Sweden over sex crime allegations.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

July/06/2012

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