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Syria: Assad sacks deputy PM over unauthorized US meeting

DAMASCUS (AFP) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sacked his vice premier on Tuesday, saying the official had been absent without leave and carried out unauthorised meetings abroad, the official SANA news agency said.

The move follows media reports that Vice Premier Qadri Jamil had met with the US pointman for Syria Robert Ford on Saturday to discuss proposed Geneva peace talks.

Sana said the official was sacked after an “absence without authorisation from his post” as well as “activities and meetings outside the country without authorisation from the government.”

The United States and Russia have been struggling to convince Syria s warring parties to attend peace talks in Geneva next month aimed at ending the civil war, which has killed an estimated 115,000 people.

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was in Damascus Tuesday as part of a regional tour to rally support for the talks following a rare US-Russian accord to dismantle Syria s chemical weapons.

The talks remain in doubt, however, with Syria s increasingly fractured rebels having yet to say whether they will attend.

The main opposition National Coalition has said it will not take part in the Geneva talks unless Assad s resignation is on the table — a demand rejected by Damascus — while several rebel groups have warned that anyone who attends will be considered a traitor.

Assad has also cast doubt on the talks, and has said he will not negotiate with any group tied to the rebels fighting his forces or to foreign states.

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