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Russia vows veto of any anti-Assad plan

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Demonstrators gather before the start of the Security Council meeting where U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will ask members to support of an Arab League peace plan for Syria at the United Nations on January 31, 2012 in New York City. The proposed plan calls for the transfer of power from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to his deputy and for free elections to be held. UPI/Monika Graff
Demonstrators gather before the start of the Security Council meeting where U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will ask members to support of an Arab League peace plan for Syria at the United Nations on January 31, 2012 in New York City. The proposed plan calls for the transfer of power from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to his deputy and for free elections to be held. UPI/Monika Graff | License Photo

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- As Syrian tanks pushed rebels out of the Damascus suburbs Tuesday, a top Russian official said his country would veto any U.N. plan to force regime change.

"Russia will not support anything that is imposed on Syria," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with the Australian television news show Lateline, RIA Novosti reported.

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The European-Arab draft of the plan was set to be debated at the U.N. Security Council later Tuesday, and formally presented to the council in two weeks.

Russia has been one of Syrian President Bashar Assad's biggest supporters during the 10-month insurgency against his government.

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Lavrov also defended Russian arms sales to Syria, saying the sales just honored previous contracts. The weapons "are not used against demonstrators but to ensure Syria's defense," Lavrov said.

Earlier, the White House warned siding with Bashar Assad is a mistake because he will be displaced.

"As governments make decisions about where they stand ... it's important to calculate into your considerations the fact that he will go," White House spokesman Jay Carney said of the Syrian president.

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"The regime has lost control of the country and will eventually fall," Carney said.

With Syrian violence sharply escalating, and at least 95 people reported killed Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton supported the Arab League demand Assad step down.

She said she would be at the U.N. Security Council Tuesday to back the league when it presents its plan requiring Assad to hand over power to a vice president, who would create a national unity government within two months.

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Assad has rejected the proposal as "foreign interference."

"The Arab League is backing a resolution that calls on the international community to support its ongoing efforts, because the status quo is not acceptable," Clinton said in a statement Monday. "The longer the Assad regime continues its attacks on the Syrian people and stands in the way of a peaceful transition, the greater the concern that instability will escalate and spill over throughout the region."

At least 10 of 15 Security Council members back the Arab measure, France said. Nine are needed for it to go to a vote.

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Russia will block the move as currently written because it "leaves open the possibility" of foreign military "intervention" in Syria, just as an Arab-backed U.N. measure last year led to NATO airstrikes in Libya, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.

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