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Russia Urges Syria to Implement 'Real' Reforms

Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin's Mideast envoy, left, welcomes a Syrian opposition delegation led by Washington-based rights activist Radwan Ziadeh, second from left, 28 June 2011.

A Russian envoy says Moscow wants Syria to implement "real" reforms and "put an end to violence" that has shaken the country since the start of a pro-democracy uprising in March.

Mikhail Margelov made the comments after meeting with a group of exiled Syrian opposition activists in the Russian capital on Tuesday.

The activists urged Russia to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into stopping a violent crackdown, now in its third month, on nationwide protests against his 11-year autocratic rule.

Margelov said Russia is "seriously concerned" about the situation in Syria and does not want it to descend into a Libya-style civil war. Russia has been a major supplier of weapons to Syria since the Soviet era.

Radwan Ziadeh, who heads the Syrian opposition delegation, is a Washington-based visiting scholar at George Washington University. He also leads the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies.

Russia has rejected Western-led efforts to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Syria over the crackdown.

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian opposition should focus on entering talks with the Assad government on proposed reforms.

The Assad government allowed more than 150 Syria-based intellectuals and opposition activists to hold a rare meeting in Damascus on Monday to discuss how to end the violence in the country.

It was the first such meeting since the uprising began and received coverage in the Syrian state-run media.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.