Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) and his wife Asma (R) leave the Grand Palais in Paris in 2010
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) and his wife Asma (R) leave the Grand Palais in Paris in 2010. The European Union turned its sights on the Assad couple's high-end lifestyle Monday, banning the export of luxury goods as part of new sanctions to punish the regime's relentless violence. © Miguel Medina - AFP/File
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) and his wife Asma (R) leave the Grand Palais in Paris in 2010
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Claire Rosemberg, AFP
Last updated: April 23, 2012

EU targets Assad couple's high-end lifestyle

The European Union turned its sights on the Assad couple's high-end lifestyle Monday, banning the export of luxury goods as part of new sanctions to punish the regime's relentless violence.

In a 14th round of EU sanctions against Syria in a year, foreign ministers from the 27-nation bloc banned shipments of luxury items to Damascus and further restricted the sale of goods used to repress dissidents.

"The EU will continue its policy of imposing additional measures targeting the regime ... as long as repression continues," ministers said in a statement.

Russia, which has agreed to the presence of UN truce monitors, at the weekend condemned the idea of new EU sanctions.

But European ministers and diplomats said the new restrictive measures were a direct response to continuing violence in Syria, despite the presence of UN truce observers in the country.

"It is very important for us to keep up that pressure, step up that pressure," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "They are not in full compliance of the ceasefire requirements of the (Kofi) Annan plan."

Under a truce plan brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan, some 30 unarmed UN observers are expected in Syria in coming days ahead of the arrival of an expanded team of up to 300 monitors.

Despite a lull in the fighting in regions visited by the monitors, violence has continued elsewhere 11 days into the ceasefire, with Syrian troops killing 28 civilians in the central city of Hama on Monday, monitors said.

The United Nations has said that more than 9,000 people have died since the revolt against Assad's regime broke out in March last year.

"We call on the government to withdraw troops from towns and cities," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

There was a mixed response from EU ministers on Annan's chances of success.

"It is hard to be optimistic after everything that has happened in the last 13 months in Syria and the Syrian regime continues to fail to implement key aspects of the ceasefire," Hague told reporters.

"This is a regime that is continuing in some cases to kill, to abuse and that only implemented a ceasefire at the last possible moment," he added.

On the new sanctions, diplomats told AFP that the exact scope of the luxury goods affected would be defined in the next fortnight but that the ban was a symbolic blow at the high-end tastes of President Bashar al-Assad and his glamorous British-born wife Asma.

A luxury goods ban against North Korea in 2007 barred exports of fine foods such as caviar and truffles, as well as fine wines, designer accessories and thoroughbred horses.

The luxury ban "constitutes a loss of prestige for leading circles of the regime," said German Minister of State Michael Link.

Asked whether the EU was running out of sanctions, Hague said on leaving the talks that the sanctions "were obviously not as important an item financially as the ban on import of oil into the EU".

"But it shows our readiness to continue to intensify the sanctions," he said.

The EU a month ago tightened the noose on Assad's family, slapping a travel ban and asset freeze on his wife, mother and sister.

His immediate family were among 12 people and two oil companies added to an existing EU blacklist totalling 126 people and 41 firms or utilities.

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