Syrian ambassador set to attend royal wedding as regime attacks its people

Envoy invited despite Foreign Office calls for end to oppression
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The Independent Online

The Syrian ambassador to Britain has an invitation to the royal wedding, it was confirmed last night - hours after he was summoned to the Foreign Office to be told that state-sponsored killings of protesters in his country must stop.

With pro-democracy activists inside Syria indicating there will be widespread protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, while the regime shows no sign of ending its brutal repression of demonstrations, there is a real prospect of the Syrian envoy attending the ceremony at Westminster Abbey at the same time as more civilians are being killed in his home country.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said yesterday an invitation was sent to Dr Sami Khiyami, who has served at the Syrian embassy in London's Belgrave Square since 2004, as a matter of course. "Those countries with which we have normal diplomatic relations and ambassadors in London are invited to the wedding and while we have strong disagreements with many of them, this remains the case," she said.

"The UK government has been very clear that Syria's recent actions have been utterly unacceptable - we've said this time and time again. That said, we still have diplomatic relations with Syria, just as we do with many other countries with whom we have disagreements."

A source at the Foreign Office told The Independent that "the good, the bad and the ugly have been invited to the wedding", and said that there was "unease" among diplomats about the Syrian invitation.

In reaction to the news that Dr Khiyami could be attending, Labour MP Denis MacShane said: "Rolling out the red carpet for petty tyrants who back home chop off people's arms and hands, or in the case of Syria, send tanks to crush peaceful protests, is bordering on the grotesque. We still don't know what say the Government had in the gigantic diplomatic and political guest list for Friday."

The number of deaths inflicted on Syrian civilians by snipers, security forces and elite army units has now risen to 453, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Permanent Under-Secretary Simon Fraser met Dr Khiyami yesterday "to reinforce the depth of international concern about Syria's recent brutal crackdown", the Foreign Office said.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council failed to agree on a statement condemning the violence in Syria, with several members including Lebanon opposing a motion put forward by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal.

Following a number of high-profile embarrassments for British universities that had accepted funding from the Libyan regime of Colonel Gaddafi, St Andrews University in Scotland announced that it was reviewing its Centre for Syrian Studies, after it accepted £105,000 of funding from the Syrian regime through Dr Khiyami.


Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia
Confirmed among the attendees is this 57-year-old member of the Saudi royal family. Although his regime is a key Middle Eastern ally to the West, it is regularly criticised for its human rights record, and was said to have detained bloggers this week.

Gabriel Machinga, Zimbabwean ambassador to Britain
Mr Machinga is expected to be there, along with the Iranian ambassador to Britain. Although things have improved in Zimbabwe since President Robert Mugabe entered into a power-sharing agreement with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, forces loyal to Mr Mugabe continue to beat and torture his opponents.

Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain
The Crown Prince was invited but pulled out just before he was due to fly to Britain. His country continues to attract criticism for its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

Ja Song-nam, North Korean ambassador to Britain
Pyongyang opened a new embassy in the UK just over a week ago, but it is not known if the ambassador will attend. The communist country is said to be making progress in building a new nuclear plant, which has been condemned in the West.