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Russia issues warning on Syria as G8 gathers for summit

David Cameron and Vladimir Putin disagree on Syria but aim to build on "common ground". Photo: BBC News

World leaders have gathered in Northern Ireland for a G8 summit set to be dominated by the conflict in Syria.

UK PM David Cameron said he hoped G8 nations would focus on finding "common ground" on the issue of bringing peace.

But Moscow, Syria's key ally, opposes US plans to arm the rebels and on Monday its foreign ministry said Russia would not allow a no-fly zone to be imposed over Syria.

The two-day summit is also expected to focus on global economic issues.

Other nations joining the UK, US and Russia for the 39th Summit of the Group of Eight (G8) in Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, are Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

The delegations have now all arrived at Lough Erne.

Ahead of the official opening, Mr Cameron, US President Barack Obama and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso held a press conference to announce the start of negotiations for an EU-US free trade deal.

Mr Cameron said a successful agreement would have a greater impact than all other world trade deals put together.

"This is a once-in-a-generation prize and we are determined to seize it," said Mr Cameron.

Syria disagreements

The G8 comes days after the US said it was prepared to arm opposition forces in Syria saying it had evidence that President Assad's forces had used chemical weapons on a "small scale".

Mr Cameron, who backed the recent lifting of EU arms sanctions against the rebels, said on Monday that no decision had yet been made on whether the UK would do the same.

But he told reporters ahead of the summit that it was right the West should be "helping, assisting and advising" the opposition.

"We shouldn't accept what President Assad wants us to accept which is the only alternative to him is extremist terrorism. That isn't the case. That is insulting to the millions of Syrians who want a peaceful democratic future for their country and it's their side that we should be on," he said.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there were no "palatable options", admitting there were extremists on both sides of the conflict. But he said the opposition leaders he had met were "sincere... about their commitment to a future democracy in Syria."

After meeting Mr Cameron on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said "blood is on the hands" of both the Syrian government and the rebels in the crisis and that Russia was not breaching any laws by supplying arms to the "legitimate government of Syria".

And in an apparent reference to a video that emerged last month which appeared to show a Syrian rebel eating the heart of a dead soldier, he said the behaviour of some rebels, who "eat the organs" of their enemies, went against the "humanitarian and cultural values" of Europe.

On Monday, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said of the possibility of a no-fly zone over Syria: "I think we fundamentally would not allow this scenario."

Earlier, Mr Cameron said it was "no secret" that President Putin disagreed with the US and the EU on Syria but said he hoped they would focus on their common aims at the G8 - to deal with the humanitarian crisis and to establish a peace conference.

Two years of civil war in Syria has left an estimated 93,000 people dead.

Tax evasion

President Obama, on his first visit to Northern Ireland, delivered a public address at the Waterfront Hall centre in Belfast before travelling on to Lough Erne.

He then held 15 minutes of talks with Mr Cameron as the pair travelled to meet children at a school in Enniskillen.

Mr Obama will also meet Mr Putin face-to-face over the course of the two-day meeting.

Mr Obama and Mr Cameron have met Italian PM Enrico Letta, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande to discuss the EU-US free trade deal.

Mr Cameron has said the deal could be worth £10bn ($15.7bn; 11.8bn euros) to the UK, adding: "That's not some abstract statistic, these trade deals matter, because they mean more jobs, more choice for consumers and lower prices."

Mr Obama said the deal was a priority for the US and he hoped that it would create an economic alliance as strong as the diplomatic and security alliances the two sides enjoyed.

The formal talks on Monday are scheduled to cover the global economy.

On Tuesday, Mr Cameron will hope to make progress on tax transparency after agreeing a deal on the issue over the weekend with British overseas territories and Crown dependencies.

He has made no secret of his desire to tackle tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.

Tuesday will also cover counter-terrorism issues.

As the event started allegations were made inThe Guardian newspaper on Monday, that Britain had spied on delegates who attended two G20 meetings in London in 2009.

The newspaper reported that documents, leaked by the ex-CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, showed that British intelligence monitored the computers of foreign politicians and officials.

British spies are accused of setting up internet cafes to read delegates' email traffic and penetrating the security on officials' BlackBerrys to monitor email messages and phone calls. Targets are alleged to have included the Turkish finance minister and possibly 15 others in his party.

The Turkish foreign ministry said the allegations, if true, would "constitute a scandal".

Observers say the revelations could cause tensions among delegates attending the G8, but Mr Cameron refused to be drawn, saying he "never comments on security and intelligence issues".

Security in Northern Ireland is tight, as ever for the G8, which has been a magnet for protests in the past.

A four-mile (6.5km) long, 3m-high metal fence surrounds the golf resort where the summit takes place.

Some 8,000 police officers are being deployed for the summit.

Police are expecting an anti-G8 march in Enniskillen in County



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