French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe arrives at the first "Friends of Syria" conference in Tunis on Friday
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe arrives at the first "Friends of Syria" conference in Tunis on February 24. Tunisian police wielding batons beat back several dozen protesters trying to enter the venue of an international meeting on the Syria crisis on Friday, an AFP reporter said. © Fethi Belaid - AFP
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe arrives at the first
AFP
Last updated: February 24, 2012

Tunis police beat back protesters at Syria meeting

Tunisian police wielding batons beat back several dozen protesters trying to enter the venue of an international meeting on the Syria crisis on Friday, an AFP reporter said.

The protesters, chanting "No to the conference!" and "No meeting of the enemies of Arab nations", had attempted to force their way into a hotel on the outskirts of Tunis where the conference was taking place.

"This meeting is in the interest of America and the Zionists," shouted others.

"This congress aims to destroy Syria and we will not let Tunisia become the centre from where plots against the Arab nation can be carried out," said one demonstrator.

Banners read: "Obama shut up, Syria is not yours", "Hillary Clinton buzz off", and "No to the meeting of shame".

The US secretary of state and other leading Western and Arab officials are in Tunis for the "Friends of Syria" meeting aimed at increasing pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's regime over its bloody crackdown on the opposition.

The gathering is expected to challenge Syria to allow in desperately needed humanitarian aid and give support to the country's opposition.

Before the meeting Clinton said it was looking for "concrete progress on three fronts: providing humanitarian relief, increasing pressure on the regime, and preparing for a democratic transition."

But the conference is marked by the absence of Russia and China -- which have both vetoed UN Security Council resolutions on the crisis -- highlighting the difficulty in building an international consensus on Syria.

An early draft of the meeting's declaration said it could call for the Syrian government "to implement an immediate ceasefire and to allow free and unimpeded access by the UN... and humanitarian agencies."

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