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Clinton held talks with seven opponents of Assad (AFP/Pool, J. Scott Applewhite)

The United States and France sent their ambassadors back to Syria to champion protesters, demanding that the regime protect the envoys who had been pulled out due to safety fears.

US Ambassador Robert Ford and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier had faced harassment and threats as they shone a light on President Bashar al-Assad’s nine-month crackdown, in which more than 4,000 people are said to have died.

“We believe his presence in the country is among the most effective ways to send the message that the United States stands with the people of Syria,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said as the two envoys flew back in.

Ford will seek to provide “reliable reporting on the situation on the ground” and engage “with the full spectrum of Syrian society on how to end the bloodshed and achieve a peaceful political transition,” Toner said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney demanded that Syria uphold international obligations to protect foreign diplomats and allow US officers “to conduct their work free of intimidation or obstacles.”

In Paris, deputy foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said that the concerns that led to Chevallier’s recall have not gone away but that “his work on the ground in Syria is important.”

“France is more than ever at the side of the Syrian people,” Nadal told AFP.

The US and French ambassadors had both traveled in Syria to document protests and show their support, amid official attempts to prevent international media and observers from witnessing the crackdown firsthand.

The United States announced on October 24 that Ford had been brought back to Washington because of “credible threats.” Assad supporters had pelted Ford and the embassy staff with tomatoes and damaged US vehicles as they visited an opposition leader in Damascus.

The French ambassador was recalled on November 16 after mobs loyal to Assad attacked France’s honorary consulate in the northern city of Latakia and the detached chancery in Aleppo.

Toner said the United States “felt there was a sense of urgency” in sending Ford back to Damascus but said that Washington would “keep a close eye” on what it viewed as threats to him, including articles in the state-run press.

In further pressure on Syria, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday held talks in Geneva with seven opponents of Assad. She called for the protection of women and minorities, a key concern for a future without Assad, as he comes from the minority Alawite sect.

read more -AFP


Vienna’s excellent infrastructure, safe streets and good public health service make it the nicest place to live in the world, consulting group Mercer said in a global survey which put Baghdad firmly in last place.

German and Swiss cities also performed especially well in the quality of living rankings, with Zurich, Munich, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva and Bern in the top 10.

The Austrian capital, with its ornate buildings, public parks and extensive bicycle network recently reduced the cost of its annual public transport ticket to 1 euro a day.

Serious crime is rare and the city of around 1.7 million inhabitants regularly tops global quality of life surveys.

But Mercer warned that top-ranking European cities could not take their position for granted in the survey, which assessed more than 200 cities.

“They are not immune to any decrease of living standards should this (economic) turmoil persist,” Mercer’s senior researcher Slagin Parakatil said on the company’s website.

Rank City Country
1 Vienna Austria
2 Zurich Switzerland
3 Auckland New Zealand
4 Munich Germany
5 Düsseldorf Germany
6 Vancouver Canada
7 Frankfurt Germany
8 Geneva Switzerland
9 Bern Switzerland
9 Copenhagen Denmark
11 Sydney Australia
12 Amsterdam Netherlands
13 Wellington New Zealand
14 Ottawa Canada
15 Toronto Canada
16 Hamburg Germany
17 Berlin Germany
18 Melbourne Australia
19 Luxembourg Luxembourg
20 Stockholm Sweden
21 Perth Australia
22 Brussels Belgium
22 Montreal Canada
24 Nurnberg Germany
25 Singapore Singapore
26 Canberra Australia
26 Dublin Ireland
28 Stuttgart Germany
29 Honolulu, HI United States
30 Adelaide Australia
30 Paris France
30 San Francisco, CA United States
33 Calgary Canada
33 Oslo Norway
35 Helsinki Finland
36 Boston, MA United States
37 Brisbane Australia
38 London United Kingdom
39 Lyon France
40 Barcelona Spain
41 Lisbon Portugal
42 Milan Italy
43 Chicago, IL United States
43 Madrid Spain
43 Washington, DC United States
46 Tokyo Japan
47 New York City, NY United States
48 Seattle, WA United States
49 Kobe Japan
49 Pittsburgh, PA United States
49 Yokohama Japan

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