Syrian Envoy Compares Protests in His Country With Riots in England

By ANITA SNOW | August 10, 2011 | 8:14 PM EDT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Syrian ambassador to the U.N. rejected European criticism of his government's crackdown on Wednesday and compared the protests in his country to this week's riots in Britain. The British envoy immediately branded the comparison as "absurd."

"It's very informative to hear the prime minister of England describing the riots and the rioters in England by using the term gangs," Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters. "They don't allow us to use the same term for the armed groups and the terrorist groups in my country. This is hypocrisy. This is arrogance.

"London, Birmingham, Bristol is only 1 percent of what happened in some restive areas of my country," Ja'afari said.

British Ambassador Philip Parham, who addressed reporters alongside other European envoys earlier in the evening, returned to the microphone outside Security Council chambers to reject Ja'afari's statements as an "absurd comparison."

Parham said the British government is handling the riots with "measured, proportionate, legal, transparent steps to restore the rule of law." In Syria, "you have a situation where thousands of unarmed civilians are being attacked and killed," said Parham, Britain's deputy permanent representative to the U.N.

Syria's envoy testily addressed reporters after Parham and representatives of the other three European nations on the 15-member Security Council — France, Portugal and Germany — first addressed journalists, telling them that Syria's continued use of force against protesters must stop. "Some 2,000 civilians have now been killed, the vast majority of them unarmed," Parham said.

Ja'afari said the European ambassadors "try to manipulate the truth" about Syria, and "avoided making reference to very important and positive progress that has been achieved in my country."

The Europeans spoke after U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco briefed the entire council one week after the body overseeing international peace and security issued a largely toothless presidential statement condemning Syria's use of violence against citizens.

The Europeans and the U.S. had been among council members pressing last week for a legally binding resolution against Syria. But Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa had argued that condemnation wouldn't promote negotiations.

Fernandez-Taranco told council members in Wednesday's closed session that Syrian authorities "have not changed course" in the past week, according to a text of his remarks obtained by The Associated Press. Rather, Syria's political and human rights crisis has deepened, he said, "with increased violence and the same pattern of anti-government protests, military operations by security forces and supported militias, killings and mass arrests."

U.S. Ambassador Susan E. Rice told the closed session that her country "would like to see the U.N. take further steps to help resolve this crisis, including perhaps sending a senior U.N. official to Damascus."

She said the U.S. also supported a suggestion for a briefing on the rights situation inside Syria by U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay. The European envoys said such a briefing was being arranged for next week.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that "we are urging restraint, reforms and dialogue." He said he didn't believe sanctions against Syria would be helpful, a position not shared by human rights advocates.

"As the Security Council heard today, Syria has rebuffed the council's call for an end to its attacks on peaceful protesters continues," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "But what is the council going to do about it? It's time to talk sanctions, arms embargo and a mission of inquiry."

Hicks expressed disappointment in the statement issued by the delegation of government representatives from Brazil, India and South Africa who traveled to Syria on Wednesday. President Bashar Assad and other government officials assured the delegation that reforms were coming, according to a statement from the envoys.