Russia and China are defending their veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have endorsed an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer power to a deputy to help end Syria's months-long unrest.
The Russian government said Sunday it vetoed the Western and Arab-backed resolution the previous day because of what it viewed as "ultimatum-like" demands for the removal of Mr. Assad, Moscow's only military ally in the Middle East. Moscow accused the resolution's supporters of lacking the "political will" to reach an international agreement on resolving the Syrian crisis. Thirteen of the Security Council's 15 members voted in favor of the draft.
Moscow also said its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and spy agency chief Mikhail Fradkov will travel to Syria on Tuesday to call on President Assad to "rapidly" implement democratic reforms to stabilize the situation. Syria's 11-month opposition uprising against Mr. Assad's autocratic rule has escalated into open conflict between rebels and pro-Assad forces in recent months after a deadly government crackdown on peaceful protesters.
A commentary published by the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, said Beijing vetoed the resolution to oppose what it perceived as an effort to promote "regime change" in Syria through "external force" in violation of international norms. It said China believes the international community should promote dialogue in Syria and "respect the ability of the Syrian people to resolve the crisis by themselves."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the double veto as a "travesty" while on a visit to the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. She said the United States will work with its allies outside the United Nations to tighten "regional and national" sanctions on Syria and "dry up sources of funding and arms shipments" that keep the Assad government's "war machine going," as she put it.
Clinton also called for "friends of a democratic Syria" to coordinate assistance to the Syrian opposition and support what she said is the Syrian people's right to have a better future. She gave no details about which nations might join the effort or what specific steps they might take.
The head of the main opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, called the double veto "a new license to kill ... for Bashar al-Assad and his criminal regime."
Syrian rights activists said fighting between pro-Assad troops and loosely-organized rebels killed at least 56 people across Syria on Sunday, about half of them civilians. The activists reported more shelling in the central city of Homs, where they said at least 200 people were massacred in a government bombardment late Friday into Saturday in what appeared to be one of the deadliest incidents of the revolt.
There was no independent confirmation of the casualties as Syria restricts independent reporting in the country.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said Sunday the Arab bloc will continue its efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis. He said the Russian and Chinese veto "does not negate" what he called "clear international support" for the league's plan for a Syrian transition of power.
The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, said the nations backing the vetoed resolution were supporting what he called "armed terrorists" that Damascus blames for the country's unrest.
The double veto sparked protests around the world Sunday. Anti-Assad activists stormed Russia's embassy in Libya's capital, Tripoli, climbing on the roof and tearing down the flag. Elsewhere, Turkish police fired tear gas to disperse protesters seeking to storm the Syrian consulate in Istanbul. In Beirut, hundreds of Syrian opposition activists and Lebanese supporters demonstrated outside the Russian embassy.
In another show of Arab anger toward the Syrian government, Tunisia's prime minister said Sunday his country is cutting ties with Damascus.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.