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Syria slams ‘provocative’ Clinton comments

Beirut says Assad’s legitimacy is from Syrian people’s will

BEIRUT (AP) ― Syria accused Washington of provocation Tuesday after the U.S. said President Bashar Assad had lost legitimacy and the American administration had nothing invested in him remaining in power.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued her strongest condemnation yet of Assad late Monday after mobs of hundreds of regime supporters attacked the American and French embassies in Damascus, smashing windows and spray-painting obscenities on the walls.

Three French Embassy employees were injured.

The attacks also prompted withering criticism from France, which called for the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syria. Germany added to the pressure, as well, saying international law obliges Syria to protect diplomatic missions.

The U.S. and France both accused Syrian forces of being too slow to respond.

Assad is facing a 4-month-old uprising that has posed the gravest challenge to his family’s 40-year dynasty in Syria, one of the most tightly controlled countries in the Middle East.

He has tried to crush the unrest using a mixture of deadly force and promises of reform, but the revolt has only grown more defiant.

Enraged by a government crackdown that activists say has killed some 1,600 people, the protest movement is now calling for nothing less than the downfall of the regime.

Syria’s deadly government crackdown has led to international condemnation and sanctions.

On Monday, Clinton cautioned Assad and his supporters that there was no truth to suggestions by some that the U.S. wanted to see the current regime stay in power for stability’s sake.

“President Assad is not indispensable and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power,” she said.

She added: “From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy.”

The Syrian Foreign Ministry condemned Clinton’s statement as “a provocative reaction.”

“Syria stresses that the legitimacy of its political leadership is based neither on the United States nor on others, it is exclusively from the will of the Syrian people,” the statement said.

Also Tuesday, France’s prime minister said the embassy attacks show Assad’s hold on power is slipping.

Speaking on Europe-1 radio, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said “each passing day makes it more and more difficult” for the authoritarian leader to remain in power.

France also urged the United Nations Security Council to take action on Syria. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said France wants the Security Council to condemn the attacks in a session which he suggested could come later in the day.

The mobs attacked the embassies to protest visits last week by the American and French ambassadors to Hama, an opposition stronghold in central Syria.

Syrian authorities called the ambassadors’ visits interference in the country’s internal affairs and accused the envoys of undermining Syria’s stability.

The regime blames foreign conspirators and thugs for the unrest, not true reform-seekers.

Police on Tuesday beefed up their presence outside both missions in the capital. At the French embassy, workers were cleaning the walls outside and painting over red graffiti.

The Syrian government organized three days of talks on reform this week, but the main opposition factions boycotted the meeting, saying there should not be dialogue until the deadly crackdown ends.

At the meeting’s closing session Tuesday, participants issued a statement calling for the release of political prisoners and detainees who have not been convicted of any crime.

The participants, including some government and some opposition figures and intellectuals, also recommended the formation of a legal committee that would revise the Syrian constitution.

Still, the meeting was not expected to produce any breakthrough to immediately end the bloodshed.