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U.N. urges support for Syria opposition; Russia opposed

By Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday condemned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and praised the opposition, but a decline in support for the Gulf Arab-drafted resolution suggested growing uneasiness about Syria's fractious rebels.

While the non-binding text has no legal force, resolutions of the 193-nation assembly can carry significant moral and political weight. There were 107 votes in favor, 12 against and 59 abstentions - a drop in support compared with a resolution condemning the Syrian government that passed last year with 133 votes in favor, 12 against and 31 abstentions.

Russia, a close ally of Assad, strongly opposed the resolution drafted by Qatar, which Assad's government has accused of arming the rebels seeking to oust him. But Moscow, which along with China used its veto three times to prevent Security Council action against Assad, could not block the motion because there are no vetoes in the General Assembly.

Diplomats said the Russian delegation wrote to all U.N. members urging them to oppose the resolution. Moscow has complained that it undermines U.S.-Russian efforts to organize a peace conference that would include Assad's government and rebels, a meeting that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said would likely take place in early June.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told the assembly ahead of the vote that the resolution went against the U.S.-Russia push for a diplomatic solution to the two-year-old crisis that the United Nations says has killed at least 80,000 people.

"It is running against the current, especially in the light of the latest Russian-American rapprochement, which the Syrian government welcomed," Ja'afari said.

Some U.N. diplomats and officials, however, are skeptical that the U.S.-Russian initiative will resolve the deadlock that has prevented the 15-nation Security Council from taking any action on Syria given the wide gulf that remains between the positions of Moscow and Washington on the Syrian civil war.

The resolution, which had strong backing from Western and Gulf Arab nations, was originally conceived to give Syria's U.N. seat to the opposition Syrian National Coalition. But U.N. diplomats said it became clear in early negotiations that such a move would not pass the assembly, where many delegations fear their own governments could one day face rebel uprisings.

South Africa Ambassador Kingsley Mamabolo said his country, which voted in favor of previous resolutions condemning Assad's government, would vote against the resolution because it opened the door to "regime change" by forces from outside Syria.

Iran, Bolivia, Venezuela and other delegations that tend to oppose U.S. policy at the United Nations also pledged to oppose the resolution. Indonesia, which voted in favor of the August resolution, said it abstained mainly because of the resolution's implied recognition of the Syrian opposition.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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