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Putin scolds West on Syria before G8 meeting

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland, June 17 (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin scolded the West ahead of the Group of Eight summit Monday for considering arming Syrian rebels who he said eat human organs.

Putin said his country, by contrast, supplied weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s “legitimate government” — a government Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper separately said was run by “thugs.”

U.S. President Barack Obama is to meet privately with Putin Monday evening.

Putin spoke in an icy news conference in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, with British Prime Minister David Cameron after the two met.

Putin attacked the decision by Obama last week to deliver arms to Syrian rebels to tilt the civil war’s balance away from the regime and try to force it to the negotiating table.

Moscow is the main diplomatic backer and arms supplier for Assad, whose efforts to defeat opposition forces seeking his ouster have contributed to a death toll the United Nations said last week was nearly 93,000.

At one point in the news conference, Putin referred to a disturbing video posted on the Internet last month of a breakaway Syrian rebel fighter biting into an organ cut out of a regime soldier’s corpse.

The fighter, Khalid al-Hamad, who goes by the war name Abu Sakkar, told Time magazine shortly afterward he considered the act just punishment for the soldier’s torture and sexual abuse of a naked mother and her two naked daughters before he was killed.

Putin said Sunday: “I think you will not deny that one does not really need to support people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines, in front of the public and cameras.

“Are these the people you want to support? Is it them who you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to the humanitarian values that have been preached in Europe for hundreds of years.”

Harper, speaking separately at a reporters briefing in Dublin, Ireland, before arriving in Northern Ireland, castigated Putin for supporting the Assad regime and even suggested Putin didn’t have the same status at the table as the seven leaders of some of the most advanced Western democracies.

“I don’t think we should fool ourselves,” Harper said. “This is the G7 plus one. Let’s be blunt, that’s what this is — the G7 plus one.”

The G7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — has met for decades as a way for like-minded leaders to talk candidly about global problems. Russia was invited to join in 1997, creating the G8.

“Mr. Putin and his government are supporting the thugs of the Assad regime for their own reasons, which I do not think are justifiable, and Mr. Putin knows my view on that.” Harper told reporters.

Obama arrives at the two-day summit at the lakeside Lough Erne resort in Enniskillen Monday afternoon.

He is first to arrive in Belfast, Northern Ireland, about 8:40 a.m. (3:40 a.m. EDT), delivering remarks at the Belfast Waterfront at 9:30 a.m., the White House said.

Obama is then to meet with Cameron ahead of the G8 meeting at 1:20 p.m. and with European Union leaders on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed U.S.-EU free-trade area, at 2:15 p.m.

The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, projects the free-trade area would create 400,000 new jobs and save an average EU household about $725 a year.

Obama is expected to make a statement to reporters after the 15-minute, free-trade meeting, about 2:30 p.m., the White House said.

Obama’s official greeting at the summit is to take place at 4:20 p.m., with the first session of all eight leaders starting at 4:45 p.m.

Obama is meet privately with Putin at 6:30 p.m., the White House said.

That meeting will be followed by a “leaders-only” working dinner at 8:30 p.m.

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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