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Canada imposes economic sanctions on Syria, including ban on export of munitions

OTTAWA - Canada has imposed economic sanctions against Syria in response to the Middle East country's violent suppression of anti-government protesters.

In announcing the measures Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called the Syrian regime's actions a grave breach of international peace.

The minister said the measures - effective immediately - are intended to target Syrian rulers, not the people.

``We are taking these actions because of the regime's steadfast and continued refusal to end its violent repression of peaceful demonstrators and the threat this poses to the region,'' Baird said in his first public act as Canadian foreign minister.

``This abhorrent crackdown must end.''

The sanctions, under the Special Economic Measures Act, will prevent Syrian leaders from travelling to Canada and essentially ban trade between the two countries.

The measures are largely symbolic because Canada exports only about $60 million annually to Syria, and receives less than a tenth of that in imports.

``Canada is gravely concerned at the excessive use of force by the Syrian regime against its own people, which has reportedly resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the detention of thousands more,'' Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.

``The sanctions being announced today are a repudiation of Syria's blatant violation of its international human-rights obligations that threaten the security of the entire Middle East.''

Human-rights groups estimate as many as 1,000 Syrians have been killed in two months of protests.

The United States and the European Union have already imposed sanctions on President Bashar Assad and other ministers in the repressive country.

Canada is scrambling to follow suit ahead of this week's G8 summit in France.

The so-called Arab Spring uprisings will be a major focus for Harper and his fellow leaders at the G8 meetings.

Baird, who was sworn in last week, spoke carefully in his first public appearance when asked about Canada's possible role in the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa.

He said most people in the region simply want better respect of human rights, democracy, freedom of expression and religion.

``These are values that are all close to Canada. ... It is high priority of Canadian foreign policy,'' said Baird, who will accompany Harper to the G8 and Greece this week.

Canada's response to the Syrian violence was delayed because of the federal election, which put major foreign-policy decisions on hold.

The sanctions announced Tuesday include:

_ A travel ban to Canada imposed on designated people associated with the current Syrian regime;

_ An asset freeze against people associated with the current Syrian regime and entities involved in security and military operations against the Syrian people;

_ A ban under the Export and Import Permits Act on the export from Canada to Syria of goods and technology that are subject to export controls; and,

_ A suspension of all bilateral co-operation agreements and initiatives with Syria.

Canada's action followed an afternoon meeting of a powerful new cabinet committee on national security. Harper himself chairs the committee, which includes Baird, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and other ranking cabinet ministers.

Baird said he personally briefed his cabinet colleagues on the ``deteriorating'' situation in Syria.

``The Syrian people have expressed a clear desire for (a) more transparent system of government. Their call for a more democratic society has been heard.''

NDP Leader Jack Layton, the new head of the official Opposition, expressed support for Canada levelling sanctions when he addressed reporters on Parliament Hill earlier Tuesday after his first caucus meeting.

Baird said there was no discussion of tougher action against Syria, such as the military campaign that NATO is leading to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya to protect innocent civilians from attacks by their government.

Human-rights groups have been critical of the slow response by the international community to deal with the violence in Syria that has occurred there since protesters took to the streets there in mid March.

``By any measure, the human rights situation in Syria would have to be considered a crisis at this time,'' Alex Neve, the head of Amnesty International Canada, said in an interview.

``The way to resolve the crisis is for the Syrian government to stop the abuses. But we know that's not going to happen readily and easily.

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