(Reuters) – France is taking measures to protect opponents of the Syrian government after recent threats against the main Syrian National Council, whose leader is based in Paris, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said on Friday.
France has previously said it would not tolerate Syria intimidating opposition activists on its soil and would beef up its police presence at future opposition rallies following clashes over the summer.
Syrian diplomats in foreign capitals are mounting campaigns of harassment and threats against expatriate dissidents protesting outside Syrian embassies, rights group Amnesty International has said.
“We must protect all those that could be threatened … We know that the Syrian government is violent and won’t hesitate to use threats notably against those who could be asked to play a role in the new Syrian democratic movement,” Gueant told reporters after meeting U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
The United States, the European Union and the Arab League blacklisted Syrian VIPs and companies on Thursday, hoping to force an end to the nearly nine-month-old military crackdown on protesters challenging the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, in which more than 4,000 people have died.
After a meeting with SNC Chairman Burhan Ghalioun earlier this month, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris considered the group to be the legitimate partner with which it wanted to work.
French police are still investigating an incident that turned violent during an August solidarity protest in Paris, although none of those arrested had diplomatic passports.
“Given the troubles in Syria, we have seen a certain number of threats on Syrian opponents,” Gueant said. “Measures to protect them have been taken,” he said, adding the SNC and others were receiving protection.
He declined to elaborate on what measures had been taken, but former Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam, who is exiled in Paris, has a 24-hour police presence outside his home.
France has been one of the strongest voices pushing for a United Nations resolution to threaten Syria with sanctions if it does not stop its deadly crackdown. It is now pushing for the creation of humanitarian corridors to provide aid to the population.
(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Rosalind Russell)