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Syria's ambassador to France denies resigning

Paris-based Ambassador Lamia Shakkour says that the woman who gave a phone interview to France 24 denouncing the crackdown in Syria and stepping down was an imposter. Shakkour says she will pursue legal action against the TV station.

June 09, 2011|By Kim Willsher, Los Angeles Times
  • Lamia Shakkour, shown in a 2009 photo, said, I am still ambassador of the Syrian Arab Republic. I have been impersonated, after a female caller told a French TV station that she was Syria's ambassador to France and was stepping down over the "violence against unarmed civilians."
Lamia Shakkour, shown in a 2009 photo, said, I am still ambassador of the… (Ammar Abd Rabbo, AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Paris — A French television station believed it had a scoop when a woman identifying herself as Syria's ambassador to France announced her resignation during an on-air telephone interview, saying she opposed her country's violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

News station France 24 said the interview Tuesday evening was with Paris-based Ambassador Lamia Shakkour.

"I can no longer support the cycle of extreme violence against unarmed civilians," the woman said. "I recognize the legitimacy of the people's demands for more democracy and freedom."

Except, it appears, Shakkour had not resigned. The report was immediately denied by news agencies including Al Arabiya in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which broadcast an interview it said was with the real Shakkour.

"I am still ambassador of the Syrian Arab Republic. I have been impersonated," she said. "I am very angry."

Shakkour early Wednesday appeared on another French television news program to deny she had resigned and to say she had been the victim of a hoax aimed at discrediting her country.

"I condemn this act of disinformation," Shakkour told BFM TV. "I will take legal action against France 24 for this act of disinformation, which is part of a campaign of falsification of information and disinformation that started against Syria in March."

Shakkour, whose father was also Syria's ambassador to France, has been posted to Paris since August 2008 and is a member of a Christian minority that is loyal to President Bashar Assad.

France 24 insisted that it had called Shakkour on a cellphone number it had used in the past to reach her and that had been given to the station by the press office at the Syrian Embassy in Paris. However, it did not rule out a "manipulation or provocation" and promised to investigate.

The resignation report came shortly after violent clashes between government forces and demonstrators in Syria and hours before France and Britain on Wednesday proposed a resolution to the United Nations Security Council in New York condemning the violence by Assad's forces. Security forces have killed at least 1,100 protesters and jailed and tortured thousands of people during a three-month uprising that grew from the detention and alleged torture of teenagers accused of writing political graffiti, according to human rights monitors and international observers.

France has been an ally of Syria and a friend to Assad, but since the popular democratic uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring generated violence in Syria, Paris has withdrawn its support.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been among those calling for Assad to stop the bloodshed or leave power.

"The situation is perfectly unacceptable and shocking," Sarkozy said recently. "We have done everything we can to bring Syria into the international community. We have tried to help, to advise, to understand.… Sadly the leaders are going firmly backwards and we have withdrawn our confidence. We have criticized what must be criticized."

Willsher is a special correspondent.

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