Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma is a British national
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma is seen at the Bristol hotel in Paris in 2010. Asma, a Western-educated former banker and style icon, faces an EU travel ban and asset freeze along with other members of Assad's family, diplomats said Thursday. © Miguel Medina - AFP/File
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma is a British national
AFP
Last updated: March 22, 2012

Assad's wife faces EU travel ban

President Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma, a Western-educated former banker and style icon, faces an EU travel ban and asset freeze along with other members of Assad's family, diplomats said Thursday.

Asma al-Assad is on a list of 12 Syrians, including a handful of the president's relatives, to be put to European Union foreign ministers Friday for a decision to bar them from travel and freeze their accounts across the 27-nation bloc.

The ministers, who in 12 previous rounds of sanctions against the Assad regime have already blacklisted some 150 firms and people, will also decide whether to add two extra firms to the list.

Assad himself was targeted by EU restrictive measures as far back as May.

The Syrian first lady is a British national, however, and in London officials said an EU travel ban could not prevent her from entering Britain.

"British citizens subject to EU travel bans cannot be refused entry to the UK," said a UK Border Agency spokesperson.

In the latest EU sanctions aimed at ending the regime's relentless repression of dissent, the bloc last month slapped a freeze on Syria's central bank.

It also banned trade in gold and precious metals with Syria and cargo flights to the EU operated by Syrians.

The bloc has already imposed oil and arms embargoes against Syria in response to a crackdown that has left more than 9,000 people dead in a revolt against Assad that began as peaceful protests before rebels took up arms.

As a British-born and British-educated onetime banker, it was widely believed Asma al-Assad's grounding in Western values would help give the regime a more human face and shatter the isolation of the secretive Assad family.

But in the last weeks the first lady once dubbed a "rose in the desert" has become the focus of sharp criticism after Britain's Guardian newspaper released e-mails showing the ruling couple shopping for luxury goods as the country slid into bloody chaos.

The mother of three, a picture of glamour in designer outfits and trademark Christian Louboutin shoes, has often been compared to the likes of Queen Rania of Jordan or France's Carla Bruni, with a reported fondness for Chanel in particular.

Tall, stylish and charismatic, her impeccable British accent and credentials have long helped promote the soft side of an iron-fisted regime.

An EU diplomat said no joint move was expected at Friday's ministerial talks on closing EU embassies in Damascus -- unless the situation deteriorated.

Six of the 19 EU nations with embassies in Syria have left -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain -- while the EU's foreign policy service has offered space in its delegation to any member wanting to close its premises but leave officials behind.

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