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Canada places sanctions on Syria (Vancouver Sun)

OTTAWA — Canada is imposing immediate sanctions against members of the current Syrian regime in response to the brutal crackdown on protesters in that country, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Tuesday.

Adopted under the Special Economic Measures Act, the sanctions include a travel ban on President Bashar al-Assad and others associated with his regime as well as an asset freeze.

Canada has also announced an immediate ban on exports of certain goods and technologies, including arms, munitions, military, nuclear and strategic items intended for use by Syrian armed forces, police, government agencies or other security personnel, Baird said.

Bilateral co-operation agreements and initiatives between Canada and Syria will also be suspended, while people living in Canada as well as citizens living abroad will be barred from dealing in property belonging to listed individuals.

Canada is also recommending against all travel to Syria, Baird said.

“The sanctions we are putting in place will target the current Syrian regime and are not intended to punish the Syrian people,” he said. “The Syrian people have clearly expressed a desire for a more transparent system of government and their call for a more democratic society has been heard.”

Baird made the announcement at a hastily arranged news conference on Parliament Hill. It came after senior cabinet ministers met to discuss the issue and formulate a response to the government-sanctioned violence occurring in Syria.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had asked his ministers last week for options on imposing sanctions on Syria.

John Baird

He travels to France later this week for the annual G8 summit, where this year’s discussions are expected to be dominated by the wave of democratic protests that have been sweeping through the Arab world in recent months.

Harper is particularly angry with the actions of the Syrian president who has insisted on using violence to suppress protesters.

“Canada is gravely concerned at the excessive use of force by the Syrian regime against its own people, which has reportedly resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the detention of thousands more,” Harper said in a statement. “The sanctions being announced today are a repudiation of Syria’s blatant violation of its international human rights obligations that threaten the security of the entire Middle East.”

Shortly before Canada unveiled its plan to impose sanctions, the Opposition noted its support for such a move.

NDP leader Jack Layton said it’s something his party called for several days ago.

“We believed that kind of significant action should be taken by the Canadian government and that it should be followed up always with an offer to assist with the resolution of difficult conflict situations,” he said.

“We’re very supportive of the impulse that’s emerging in so many of these countries toward the creation of more democratic, open and accountable governance.”

According to the latest estimates, about 1,000 civilians have died in two months of clashes between government forces and protesters. Syrian authorities dispute this, blaming armed groups instead.

A spokesman for Harper said last week that the prime minister believes the actions of the Syrian government against civilians are “unacceptable” and that he will raise the situation with his counterparts at the upcoming G8 summit in Deauville, France.

Last Friday marked the 10th consecutive week protesters have defied the crackdown to take to the streets in what has become an escalating cycle of demonstrations, gunfire and arrests. Syrian troops have besieged and bombarded several of the top protest flashpoints, yet protesters are still demonstrating in some towns.

The United States and Europe have already imposed sanctions on Syria. Washington has frozen assets held by Assad and his top political aides to put pressure on the regime, while the European Union has placed an arms embargo on the country.

The wave of protests is the most serious challenge to Assad’s 11-year rule. His minority Alawite family has held power over majority Sunni Muslim Syria for four decades. The uprising followed revolts that ousted leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

According to Foreign Affairs, Canada exported $59,950,742 worth of goods to Syria last year an imported $16,731,777.

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