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EU freezes assets, imposes bans on Assad family

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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- EU foreign ministers imposed sanctions Friday on Asma Assad, the stylish, British-born wife of the Syrian president, banning her from travelling to European Union countries and freezing any assets she may have there.

The foreign ministers also imposed the same sanctions on President Bashar Assad's mother, sister and sister-in-law, and eight government ministers in a continuing attempt to stop the bloody crackdown on opposition in the country.

In addition, the assets of two Syrian companies have been frozen, an EU official said. Bashar Assad himself has been the subject of EU sanctions since May.

Also Friday, the United Nations' top human rights body sharply condemned the crackdown and the UN announced the joint UN-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, would travel to Russia and China for more talks aimed at resolving the crisis peacefully.

The UN estimates more than 8,000 people have been killed since an uprising began in Syria a year ago. Its children's agency, UNICEF, said Friday that toll includes at least 500 children killed in the violence, with hundreds more injured, placed in detention or abused while schools and health centres have shut down or become too dangerous for families to reach.

The EU has imposed 12 previous rounds of sanctions against the Syrian regime, yet the crackdown has only intensified. But French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he believed the regime was getting weaker.

"Their economic situation becomes ever more difficult. Syria has few reserves," Juppe told reporters. "We think its economic situation will become untenable.

Asma Assad, 36, was born in London, spent much of her life there and has British citizenship. She has been seen as the softer face of the ruling family. Britain's Home Office said Friday a British citizen subject to a EU travel ban could not be refused entry into the country.

But British Foreign Secretary William Hague said "given that we are imposing an asset freeze on all of these individuals and a travel ban on other members of the same family and the regime we are not expecting Mrs. Assad to try to travel to the United Kingdom at the moment."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2012 A25

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