Britain summons Syria envoy

Reports claim that a diplomat at the Syria embassy had been intimidating Syrians in Britain.

London: Britain on Tuesday summoned the Syrian ambassador to express concerns about reports that a diplomat at the embassy had been intimidating Syrians in Britain, the Foreign Ministry said.

"Syrian Ambassador Dr Sami Khiyami was invited in to see the (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) Middle East director Christian Turner," said a Foreign Ministry statement.

"Mr Turner made clear our strong concerns about the media allegations that a diplomat at the Syrian embassy has been intimidating Syrians in Britain."

Such intimidation would amount to "a clear breach of acceptable behaviour”, said the statement, adding: "If such claims were substantiated, the Foreign Office would respond swiftly and appropriately."

Britain`s Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday that Syrians involved in anti-government protests in Britain had been intimidated by agents of President Bashar al-Assad`s regime.

Protesters had received phone calls and visits to their homes and members of their families in Syria had been threatened, the paper said.

A British government source said police have not received any complaints about intimidation by members of the Syrian embassy.

In March, Britain expelled five Libyan diplomats including the military attaché, all thought to be strong supporters of veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi, for intimidating opposition groups in London.

Syria has been in the grip of deadly unrest pitting pro-democracy protesters against security forces since mid-March.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 1,342 civilians have been killed in the government`s crackdown on protesters and that 342 security force personnel have also died.

It is the second time recently that Khiyami has been called in by British authorities.

He was summoned on May 13 to warn of fresh sanctions against the regime if it failed to stop the crackdown on protesters.

In April, Britain withdrew his invitation to the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine.

However, earlier on Tuesday it emerged that a Conservative lawmaker and party official, Brooks Newmark, had recently visited Assad in Damascus.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said Newmark had visited in a "personal capacity" and had informed the foreign office about the trip, which Newmark had paid for himself.

"My officials met with Mr Newmark and they made clear the steps that the UK Government thinks the Syrian regime should take. He agreed to reflect this in his conversation with President Assad," Hague said.

A spokesman said it was important to use "all means to convey the message to President Assad that he must reform or step aside".

On Tuesday in Syria, about 160 dissidents held a meeting in a Damascus hotel where they vowed to press ahead with a peaceful uprising and were invited to hold talks with the Assad regime.

Bureau Report

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