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China repeats call for Syrian parties to negotiate

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November 12, 2012 03:54 AM EST | AP

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BEIJING — China sidestepped the issue of whether it will recognize Syria's newly united opposition coalition, reiterating its call Monday for all sides in the civil war to join in negotiations.

Under intense international pressure, Syrian anti-government groups struck a deal Sunday in the Qatari capital of Doha to form a new opposition leadership that will include representatives from the country's disparate factions fighting to topple President Bashar Assad's regime. They also elected Islamic preacher Maath al-Khatib president of the new coalition.

China and Russia been criticized by the West for blocking U.N. resolutions aimed at ending Syria's bloodshed, including calls for Assad to step down.

At a regular press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei didn't directly respond to a question that asked whether China recognizes the new grouping and president, or whether it thinks the opposition coalition is too close to the West.

Hong said that China is always of the opinion that all sides in Syria should stop fighting immediately, support mediation efforts and start a political transition "led by the Syrian people as soon as possible."

"We hope the moves by the relevant sides will help achieve these goals," he added.

China has always had friendly relations with Assad's regime. Beijing unveiled its own four-point plan for a political solution to the conflict at the end of last month. But observers say it is vague and does not significantly build on previous peace plans that have failed.