Egyptian attack on 'oppressive' Syria sparks walkout

DAMASCUS - Egypt's president has told a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam) that the Syrian uprising is a "revolution against an oppressive regime".

Mohammed Mursi, making the first visit to Iran by an Egyptian leader since 1979, said the movement had an "ethical duty" to support the uprising.

His comments sparked a walkout by the Syrian delegation.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Mr Mursi's speech "incites continued bloodshed in Syria".

Egypt has been holding the rotating presidency of the Nam, and Mr Mursi was handing the duty over to Iran during his visit.

He used his speech to tell delegates of the 120-member body: "Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty, as it is a political and strategic necessity.

President Mursi's speech in Tehran marks an important moment as he defines Egypt's new foreign policy.

The new Egyptian leader has defied Washington, by going to Tehran for the Non-Aligned summit. Now he has angered the Iranian government by criticising their allies, the Syrian regime.

The message is clear. Egypt intends to have a new, independent and assertive foreign policy. It is a huge contrast from the days of President Hosni Mubarak who was seen, by many Egyptians, as slavishly following the Americans.

But it will also provide some reassurance to Washington, showing there is not about to be a new "Islamic axis" between the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of Egypt and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"We all have to announce our full solidarity with the struggle of those seeking freedom and justice in Syria, and translate this sympathy into a clear political vision that supports a peaceful transition to a democratic system of rule that reflects the demands of the Syrian people for freedom."

He compared the anti-government movement in Syrian to the Palestinians, saying they were both "actively seeking freedom, dignity and human justice", and said Egypt was "ready to work with all to stop the bloodshed".

Mr Mursi's visit is the first by an Egyptian leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when Iran cut ties with President Anwar Sadat's administration over its signing of a peace treaty with Israel.

Syria's delegation to Nam walked out of the conference room when Mr Mursi began speaking about the conflict, Egyptian and Syrian media reported. Iranian media said they had simply left to conduct an interview.

Syrian state media quoted Mr Muallem as saying the speech was "interference in Syria's internal affairs and incites continued bloodshed in Syria".

The BBC's Iran correspondent, James Reynolds, says Syria's exit illustrates the strong divisions which could derail the summit.

But Egypt and Iran have also been competing for many years to be seen as the natural leader of the region, our correspondent adds, and that fight is likely to be played out in Tehran.

Analysts believe Mr Mursi's comments are likely to have infuriated both the Syrian government - which says it is fighting an armed terrorist insurgency - and the Iranians, who have been giving staunch backing to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The US has accused Iran of training militia in Syria to reinforce Mr Assad's forces.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is attending the summit, said Syria was facing a long-term civil war, and warned that "those who provide arms to either side in Syria are contributing to the misery".

"The situation cannot be resolved with the blood and the bodies of more than 18,000 people and counting. There should be no more bullets and bombs. I urge all parties in the strongest possible terms to stop the violence now," he said.

Mr Ban's acceptance of Tehran's invitation to the summit was described by the US State Department as "strange", but the South Korean has not shied from drawing attention to the Iran's human rights record.

At a press conference, seated next to the speaker of Iran's parliament and one of the country's most powerful politicians, he told reporters that he had "serious concerns" about human rights in Iran.
'Overt dictatorship at UN'

Nuclear disarmament is also on the agenda of the talks and in his speech to delegates on Thursday, Ayatollah Khamenei said that, contrary to the view held in the West, Iran was "never seeking nuclear weapons".

He said such weapons were "a major and unforgivable sin", but that Iran would "never give up the right to peaceful nuclear energy".

The ayatollah also criticised the "illogical" structure of the United Nations Security Council, saying it enabled the US to impose its "bullying manner" on the world, Reuters reports.

"The UN Security Council has an irrational, unjust and utterly undemocratic structure, and this is an overt dictatorship," he said.

Mr Ban responded to the ayatollah's statement by calling on Iran to build confidence in its nuclear ambitions by co-operating fully with the Security Council over its nuclear programme.

He also rebuked Tehran for its hostility towards Israel, saying: "I strongly reject threats by any member states to destroy another or outrageous attempt to deny historical facts such as the Holocaust, claiming that another state, Israel, does not have the right to exist or describing it in racist terms."

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