France will continue pressuring Assad to leave Syria

French President Francois Hollande says his country must continue to apply pressure for the departure from office of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hollande spoke Saturday to a national audience, in a wide-ranging interview marking Bastille Day.  He again singled out United Nations Security Council members China and Russia for blocking Council resolutions aimed at halting the ongoing Syrian conflict.

“You are right:  There are two countries, China and Russia, who today are blocking all U.N. resolutions from passing,” Hollande said during the interview.

Hollande, who took office in May, said he had recently conveyed his concerns about the conflict to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“And I said this to Mr. Putin, who is very keen that Syria remain close to his country,” the president said. “They have commercial and historical relations and I respect them, but I told him the worst thing that could happen would be to have a civil war over there [in Syria].”

Neither Russia nor China attended a July 6 Paris conference on the Syria uprising, during which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Russia and China’s stance on the conflict “intolerable.”  She also accused Moscow and Beijing of “holding up progress” on ending the fighting.

For its part, the Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected Clinton’s criticisms, calling them “totally unacceptable.”  Spokesman Liu Weiman said China has wide support among members of the international community for its non-intervention stance on Syria.  He also said efforts to “slander” China will fail.