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Chinese envoy in Syria urges end to violence

BEIRUT – A Chinese envoy visiting Damascus called Saturday on all sides in Syria to stop the violence, and said he is hopeful that the authorities will restore stability soon.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun spoke in the Syrian capital following a meeting with President Bashar Assad. He backed a referendum that is at the center of the Syrian regime’s plan to defuse the unrest, and said China was “extremely concerned” about the escalation of the crisis.

China along with Russia has refused to condemn Syria over the crackdown on an uprising now in its 11th month, which according to the U.N. killed more than 5,400 people last year alone. The number of dead and injured continues to rise daily as as the regime struggles to extinguish major pockets of dissent.

The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Thursday in favor of a nonbinding resolution backing an Arab League plan calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and strongly condemning human rights violations by his regime. Russia and China, who both vetoed a similar resolution in the Security Council, voted against the measure.

“China has no selfish interests,” Jun said, defending the veto. He added that China’s “objective and just” position on Syria stemmed from its basic interest in the welfare of the Syrian people.

Jun urged Syrians to participate in a planned referendum on the country’s new draft constitution that would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the Assad family for 40 years.

Assad’s call for a referendum, set for Feb. 26, has raised the question of how a nationwide vote could be held at a time when many areas see daily battles between Syrian troops and rebel soldiers. The opposition has opposed the referendum.

Jun said the referendum “would be in the interest of the Syrian people.”

Only in light of stability could Syria conduct comprehensive political reforms, he added.

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