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    Russian Foreign Ministry says Assad's reform speech 'constructive'

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    Cooperation between the Syrian people and authorities, which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called for in his address to the nation, would help overcome the crisis in the country, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

    Cooperation between the Syrian people and authorities, which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called for in his address to the nation, would help overcome the crisis in the country, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

    "Moscow views Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's speech as an important and constructive step aimed at working out principles of Syria's renewed democratic structure on the basis of a broad national discussion," the Foreign Ministry's statement said.

    "We consider such an approach, stipulating the joint participation of the people and authorities in determining the country's future, is able to provide a way out of the crisis, the normalization of the situation and a gradual development in Syria," the statement reads.

    In his Monday's address to the nation, the third since the popular uprising began in Syria three months ago, Assad called for dialogue between his government and the opposition and promised constitutional reforms, while saying that "saboteurs" and armed gangs were to blame for the unrest in the country.

    Replying to accusations of violence used by the Syrian security forces against protesters, he said government intervention was the only solution in that situation.

    The European Union has criticized Assad for a lack of real action aimed at ending bloodshed and improving the political situation in Syria. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said she was disappointed by Assad's speech, urging him to "launch a credible, genuine and inclusive dialogue" with the opposition.

    "It's up to the people of Syria to judge the willingness to reform," she said, adding that the European Union was preparing to expand sanctions against the Assad regime.

    The European Union foreign ministers also issued a statement on Monday, following Assad's address, in which they said the EU "condemns in the strongest terms the worsening violence in Syria" and urged Assad to launch "meaningful political reforms without delay."

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday during his visit to France that international political pressure needs to be put on Syrian authorities to end the bloodshed. "The leadership of any country that is affected by mass unrest, let alone bloodshed, needs to be exposed to [international] pressure," he said.

    He also stressed that Moscow does not have a special relationship with Syria, as it had in the Soviet times.

    Human rights groups have estimated the death toll from clashes between government troops and protesters at around 1,400 people and say around 10,000 others have been arrested.

    Some 11,000 people have crossed the border with Turkey, overwhelming refugee camps at the Turkish-Syrian frontier.

    Official Syrian reports have said that some 340 troops have been killed by armed protesters.

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