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Russian minister arrives in Syria
Russia's foreign minister arrived in Syria as government forces stepped up their assault on the rebel city of Homs.
Sergey Lavrov's visit comes days after Syrian allies Russia and China vetoed a resolution at the United Nations that would have condemned President Bashar Assad regime's crackdown on dissent and called on him to transfer some of his powers to his deputy.
The Syrian government had rejected the Arab plan as intervention in internal affairs.
Mr Lavrov's convoy ran along the Mazzeh boulevard among a sea of Assad supporters who turned up to express gratitude for Moscow's support.
"Thank you Russia and China" read one banner that had the photos of both Assad and the Russian president. Many stood under rain carrying Syrian flags as well as the red, blue and white Russian banner and balloons.
More than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March, the UN said early last month. Hundreds more are believed to have been killed since then, but the UN says the chaos in the country has made it impossible to cross-check the figures.
Syria has blocked access to trouble spots and prevented independent reporting, making it nearly impossible to verify accounts from either side. The Assad regime says terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilise the country are behind the uprising, not people seeking to transform the authoritarian regime.
The escalating violence prompted the United States to close its embassy in Syria while Britain recalled its ambassador to Damascus in a clear message that Western powers see no point in engaging with Assad and now will seek to bolster Syria's opposition.