In a last minute attempt to quell growing criticism of a number of questionable guests invited to the royal wedding on Friday, Britain's Foreign Office on Thursday unceremoniously disinvited the Syrian ambassador to London. “In light of this week's attacks against civilians by the Syrian security forces,” they announced, it was decided his presence would be “unacceptable.”
Dr Sami Khiyami took it well, telling BBC Radio 4 that he was "a little bit embarrassed" at having his invitation withdrawn, but wished the couple the best of luck.
"You may not want to see the pictures of repression in Syria at the same time as the picture of the Syrian ambassador happily being greeted at the wedding," Human Rights Watch senior legal adviser Clive Baldwin told Reuters.
He said Britain should make clear it opposed human rights abuses to avoid being seen as condoning repressive regimes, especially as the eyes of the world would be on the country at this time.
Human rights groups are unhappy that invitations have been sent to Saudi Arabia, while on Sunday, Bahrain's crown prince said he would not attend because of unrest in the Gulf Arab kingdom. The Libyan envoy never got an invite at all.
The Foreign Office said those countries with which Britain has normal diplomatic relations had been invited, and that "while we have strong disagreements with many of them this remains the case."
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who held a demonstration outside Buckingham Palace on Thursday, said it was "time Buckingham Palace stopped playing diplomatic niceties".
"We can have diplomatic relations with these countries but there is no obligation to reward their regimes with seats of honor in Westminster Abbey," he said.
Opposition Labor politicians complained that representatives for Syria and other countries criticized for their human rights records had been invited, but former Labor prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were not.
Human rights groups have estimated that at least 500 civilians have been shot dead in Syria during the month-long demonstrations.
Britain summoned the Syrian ambassador Sami Khiyami to the Foreign Office on Wednesday to condemn the "unacceptable use of force" against protesters.
A day later, under intense media pressure, it rescinded the wedding invitation saying the Foreign Office and Buckingham Palace shared the view that it was "not considered appropriate" for the ambassador to attend.
Khiyami later told BBC radio: "I find it a bit embarrassing but I do not consider it as a matter that would jeopardize any ongoing relations and discussions with the British government."
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