As the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Syria continues, Russia and China have blocked an effort by Western nations to impose new sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
After last-minute negotiations delayed a United Nations Security Council vote on Tuesday evening, Russia and China exercised their veto right and quashed a European-led resolution threatening Syria with sanctions.
Germany, Britain, France and Portugal sought the Security Council vote to impose "targeted measures" against the regime of President Bashar Assad for the crackdown that has killed 2,700 people since March, according to rights groups and the UN.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed deep regret at the decision by Russia and China to veto the resolution.
"The UN Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilty for peace and security in the world," Westerwelle said in a statement.
The proposal had called for sanctions to be introduced if Assad failed to comply within 30 days with instructions to end the violence and enact reforms.
It would have been the first legally binding resolution adopted by the Security Council since Assad began his military crackdown on the protesters who have been calling for the end to Assad's regime for months.
Hoping to avoid the double veto, the European sponsors had watered down the language three times, even removing the word "sanction."
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said, however, that Russia opposed because it was "based on a philosophy of confrontation" and included "an ultimatum of sanctions."
Western governments have expressed frustration with the council over its failure to adopt any resolution on Syria since pro-democracy protests began earlier this year.
Both the Russian and Chinese ambassadors maintained that their countries are concerned about the ongoing violence in Syria but did not think the Security Council resolution was the right move.
New rebel council
Syrian opposition politicians officially announced the creation of a broad-based council demanding the end of Assad's regime on Sunday.
The Syrian National Council "is a frame for the opposition and the peaceful revolution and represents the revolution inside and outside Syria," Burhan Ghalioun, the chairman of the council told reporters in Istanbul, where the council met.
With 140 members from associations including the Muslim Brotherhood and Kurdish groups, the Syrian National Council, first created in late August, is seen as a vitally important show of unity for the opposition, which has been plagued by infighting.
Ghalioun said he was confident the council, which calls on other countries to intervene in the regime's crackdown on protesters, would receive international recognition.
That came as Syrian troops backed by tanks retook control of the rebellious central town of Rastan after six days of fierce fighting. The prolonged clashes with army defectors and activists were thought to have been the worst in the six-month anti-government uprising.
The state-run SANA news agency reported that "life in the city has returned to normal after law enforcement personnel, backed by army units, entered the city and encountered the terrorist armed groups who terrorized citizens."
Troops spread out across the town, about 112 miles (180 kilometers) from Damascus, after the defectors pulled out, according to Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Land and mobile telephone services to Rastan were cut Saturday, making it impossible to get information from residents inside, although unconfirmed reports suggested that at least 100 people had been killed in the town since heavy shelling began on Monday.
"The city is almost destroyed due to the shelling from the army," an anonymous activist based in Beirut told news agency DPA.
"Around 15 army defectors were killed and more than 80 others were injured in the fighting on Saturday," he added.
Author: Darren Mara, Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, David Levitz, Holly Fox (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson