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      China Breaks Ranks With Assad

      China, a staunch ally of Damascus, has called on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to honor his pledges for political reform.
      By Gabe Kahn.
      First Publish: 10/12/2011, 10:47 AM

      China on Tuesday urged embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to meet the "reasonable" demands of opposition protesters, AFP reported.

      A staunch ally of Assad's regime throughout the six-month uprising, Beijing - like Moscow - has thus far used its Security Council veto to protect Syria from Western moves against Damascus at the United Nations.

      But Beijing's statement urging Bashar to "respond to the Syrian people's reasonable expectations" on Tuesday has been taken as a nod to opposition protesters in the country who have weathered a bloody six-month regime crackdown.

      Observers also say the statement is a clear message to Damascus that Beijing is distancing itself from the Syrian narrative, which maintains the popular uprising in the country is the work of foreign terrorists.

      "China is highly concerned about the situation in Syria, is against the use of violence, and we hope not to see any more bloodshed and casualties," the Guardian quoted Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin, as saying.

      "The Syrian government should move faster to honor its reform pledges and quickly initiate and push forward the inclusive political process with the broad participation of all parties."

      The move comes several days after Russia also publicly shifted its position, offering strident criticism of the regime and demanding that Assad either reform or quit. Moscow had previously banked on Assad weathering to political storm in his country in hopes of maintaining its lucrative strategic alliance with Damascus, which dates back to the cold war.

      The six-month revolt in Syria has crippled the nation’s economy, and led the regime to suspend oil production under an increasing array of sanctions from both Western and Arab nations. Assad's crackdown has resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths to date.

      The 46-year-old Assad has repeatedly demonstrated he plans to continue his autocratic rule. Assad pledged to make reforms over the weekend, but he has made such promises before and they have always proved hollow.

      Syrian security forces continue to besiege the focal protest city of Homs, where clashes between dissidents and security forces have been sporadically erupting since protests first erupted. At least seven were killed in Homs, and some 20 wounded, on Tuesday evening.