12 Oct 2016

Russia's Putin halts France visit amid Syria row

10:14 am on 12 October 2016

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has cancelled a planned visit to France amid a row over Syria.

He had been due to meet French President Francois Hollande and open a new Orthodox church later this month, but after France's government said talks would be confined to Syria, the visit was halted, French presidential sources said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin Photo: AFP

The French presidency had told the Russians Mr Hollande would attend only one event with Mr Putin during the visit planned for 19 October - a working meeting on Syria, according to the sources.

But after this Russia "let it be known that it wanted to postpone the visit", they added.

A spokesman for Mr Putin confirmed the trip had been cancelled, adding that the visit would take place when it becomes "comfortable for President Hollande".

France's President Francois Hollande at the G20 Leaders Summit in China.

Francois Hollande at the G20 leaders summit in China. Photo: AFP

Despite this Mr Hollande has said he will meet Mr Putin at "any time" if it would "further peace".

The development comes a day after Mr Hollande suggested Russia could face war crimes charges over its bombardment of Syria's city of Aleppo.

Mr Hollande told French TV that prosecutions over Syria could take place in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"These are people who today are the victims of war crimes. Those that commit these acts will have to face up to their responsibility, including in the ICC," he said.

Neither Russia nor Syria is a member of the ICC.

Moscow has repeatedly denied attacking civilians, and says it targets terrorist groups in Syria

Syrian volunteers carry an injured person on a stretcher following Syrian government forces airstrikes on the rebel held neighbourhood of Heluk in Aleppo.

Aleppo has been under intense aerial bombardment. Photo: AFP

The besieged east of Aleppo has come under intense aerial bombardment since a cessation of hostilities brokered by the US and Moscow collapsed last month.

The area was hit again on Tuesday in some of the heaviest air strikes in days, a monitoring group and activists said.

At least 12 civilians were killed in the strikes and considerable damage was inflicted on several areas, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The observatory said Russian war planes had dropped so-called "bunker busters" and other bombs, with children thought to be among the dead.

Aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Tuesday there were now only 11 working ambulances left in the city because five had been hit by bombs and another eight were missing essential spare parts.

Diplomatic efforts to revive the ceasefire have so far come to nothing.

The UN has warned that eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 275,000 people still live, could face "total destruction" in the space of two months.

Last week, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution drafted by France calling for an end to the bombing in Aleppo.


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