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Russia Sends Planes to Evacuate Syria
January 21, 2013

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Russia has sent two large planes to transport more than 100 Russian citizens home from Syria.

The foreign ministry also said that it was finalizing plans to evacuate the rest of the nearly 30,000 Russians who are still living Syria. Such an action would mark a distinct departure from Russia's earlier staunch support for the government and war efforts of President Bashar al-Assad.

The foreign ministry made the announcement in the wake of continuing deterioration of the security system in the war-torn country, following the lead of other countries and organizations, most notably the United Nations.

The announcement echoed earlier concerns by Russia's deputy foreign minister that Assad's government was unlikely to survive the conflict.

Since March 2011, when peaceful protesters by the thousands began gathering in the streets of Damascus, the capital, and other large cities in Syria, including Aleppo and Homs, the struggle has been on to ease restrictions put on the population by Assad, who has ruled the country for dozens of years and whose father ruled for longer before that. Government responses to the protests turned violent, and the protesters gradually formed an armed opposition, backed by a growing number of other countries.

Still, the opposition hasn't presented a united front, making it all the more difficult to secure aid and support. Last week, talks in Istanbul failed to cement a roster for a transitional government from the fledgling Syrian National Coalition. Although Western nations such as the U.S., France, and the U.K. have recognized the opposition, they have been reluctant to go any further with support until they have assurances that a legitimate government would replace Assad if he were to leave, either voluntarily or through military defeat.

Meanwhile, fighting continued in the major cities, notably Damascus, where many people were without power after a main electricity line was severed in a crossfire.

Human rights groups now put the death toll at more than 60,000.

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