Putin visits UK for Syria talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet David Cameron at Downing Street today for talks on the Syrian crisis. After the meeting, the President will visit the ExCel centre to watch the Olympic judo competition.

Live updates

Activists: 'Dozens killed' by troops near Damascus

Syrian opposition activists have said that regime forces have swept through neighbourhoods south of the capital Damascus in a deadly military operation that has inflicted casualties, according to the Associated Press.

Activists estimated that dozens of people have been killed. The figure could not be independently verified.

Syria's state-run news agency SANA reported that army forces have raided rebel hideouts, in the southern suburbs of the capital, and killed and arrested "a number" of militants.


Black belt Putin to watch Judo at the Games

Russian President Vladimir Putin to watch Judo at the Olympics, December 2009. Credit: Ria Novosti / Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin will be welcomed to Downing Street today before attending the final stages of the London 2012 judo competition - a martial art in which he holds a black belt.

The Russian President, who is a judo enthusiast, presented an instructional DVD in the martial art in 2008.

Putin's adviser: Western support for Syrian rebels 'irresponsible'

Russia has "no specific interest" in Syria, compared with other countries in the West and in the region, an adviser to Russia's President Vladimir Putin said today.

Sergei Markov told Radio 4's Today programme that Moscow believed the international community's support for Syrian opposition forces was "irresponsible" as some of those fighting the Assad regim were "very close to al-Qaeda and radical Islamists". Mr Markov said:

Russia is not fighting against the West. Russia is trying to oppose some kind of ignorant and irrational policy of the West in (Syria).

Loyalists fear rebel attacks after reported executions in Syria

A member of the Berri clan, Abdul Fawaz al-Jais, who's cousin and brother were among those reportedly executed in Syria yesterday said "it wasn't true" that his family were pro-Assad militia, the Independent has reported.

In an interview with the newspaper, Mr al-Jais, a 47-year-old businessman said:

They only started defending our area when it came under attack. We had nothing to do with what happened at the airport.

This was in the war between the government – now they are blaming us all. I am sure they have killed Ahmed and Jassem.

What will happen to their families? The children? What will happen to the rest of us? Some people were saying we are Alawites, we are not, we are Sunnis.

UN: 3 million Syrians in need of food assistance this year

Up to 3 million Syrians are in need of food, crop and livestock assistance in the coming year, the World Food Programme said, citing a United Nations report.

The joint assessment by the UN and the Syrian government found that the Syrian agricultural sector has lost $1.8 billion this year as a result of the crisis in the country. Strategic crops, such as wheat and barley, have been badly affected. WFP Syria's Representative Muhannad Hadi said:

While the economic implications of these losses are quite grave, the humanitarian implications are far more pressing.

The effects of these major losses are first, and most viciously, felt by the poorest in the country.


Litvinenko's widow calls for protest at Putin visit to Olympics

The widow of Alexander Litvinenko, the murdered Russian spy, has called on Londoners to wear a white ribbon in protest at Vladimir Putin's visit to the Olympics, according to The Telegraph.

A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko in a gallery in Moscow. Credit: Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

Marina Litvinenko, whose husband was allegedly poisoned by a Russian spy with radioactive polonium 210 at a London hotel in December 2006, said she was "dismayed" at the news. Mr Cameron is under pressure to raise the issue of Mr Litvinenko ahead of his meeting today with President Putin.

Mrs Litvinenko added: "I am sure that my husband, if he were alive, would have been among those protesters".

Musicians call on Putin to give Pussy Riot a fair trial

A group of musicians have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to give a fair trial to punk band Pussy Riot who face "preposterous" charges against them, in a letter published in The Times (£).

Members of female punk band Pussy Riot, Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich sit behind bars in Moscow. Credit: REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

The President - who is in London for Syria talks today - is facing criticism over the trial of the all-woman group, who wore balaclavas at a Cathedral in Moscow and called for Putin to be removed from power by the Virgin Mary.

Among the signatories of the letter were: Pete Townshend; Jarvis Cocker; Alex Kapranos, of Franz Ferdinand; Johnny Marr, the former Smiths guitarist; Corinne Bailey Rae; and Neil Tennant, of the Pet Shop Boys.

They wrote: "Dissent is a right in any democracy and it is entirely disproportionate that they face seven years in jail for what we consider a preposterous charge of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".

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