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Harper convinced of sarin attacks

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Stephen Harper and French President Francois Hollande in Paris Friday.

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Stephen Harper and French President Francois Hollande in Paris Friday.

PARIS -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday he is convinced the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons, a day after the United States claimed multiple attacks have killed as many as 150 people.

Washington says it has proof Assad's forces used chemical weapons -- including the nerve agent, sarin -- against Syrian rebels.

Speaking in Paris alongside French President Franßois Hollande, Harper said he accepts the U.S. claims.

"We share the view of our allies, I think, based on the evidence before us, that there have been uses of chemical weapons in Syria by the regime," Harper said in Paris.

"And as you know, the position of Canada on the regime is clear: We want to see Assad depart power and we want to see a regime that is representative of the entire population of Syria, which the Assad regime in its present form can never be."

The bloody civil war raging in Syria for two years -- which has killed at least 93,000 people -- will be at the top of the agenda at the coming meeting of the world's eight wealthiest countries in Northern Ireland.

G8 member Russia, which has so far resisted calls to oust Assad, on Friday disputed the U.S. claim Assad's regime used chemical weapons against the rebels.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said the evidence Russia has seen "didn't look convincing."

Ushakov added there is no talk yet of Russia supplying the S-300 air-defence missile systems to the Assad regime in retaliation for the U.S. arming the rebels.

Harper said he still has reservations about providing weapons and ammunition to the Syrian rebels.

"I think our concerns about the risks on both sides are shared also by our allies," the prime minister said.

The Syrian opposition must be clear about how it intends to use the weapons, Hollande said.

"We must exert some military pressure," he said. "This is the reason why France, on a number of occasions, has set some principles while asking the Syrian opposition to be particularly clear as to its approach and the use of chemical weapons."

France has long known the Assad regime used chemical weapons, Hollande added.

-- The Canadian Press, with files from The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2013 A1

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