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Russia's withdrawal from Syria should boost peace talks

Russia’s sudden withdrawal from Syria was a bolt from the blue which should bolster peace talks getting underway in Geneva, reports ITV News correspondent Juliet Bremner.

Moscow has conducted 9,000 sorties in the war-torn country since it began a military intervention insupport of president Bashar al-Assad last September.

The onslaught has helped government forces regain momentum in a brutal civil war - and it has also transformed President Putin’s standing on the international stage.

Ithas come at a heavy price in terms of human lives - 4,400 have been killed, according to Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, including more than 1,700 civilians.

While it’s not clear why Putin has chosen to withdraw most of his forces now, the removal of Assad’s main outside support should boost efforts to reach a permanent political solution to the crisis.

Obama welcomes reduced violence in Syria

President Obama stressed continued offensive actions risked undermining peace efforts. Credit: Reuters

President Obama has welcomed the reduction in violence following Russian's announcement it would partially withdraw from the country.

In a phone call with Putin, the US president stressed continuing fighting by Syrian regime forces risked undermining the truce and the UN-led political process.

He also emphasised the need for combined Russian-separatist forces to implement a ceasefire in Ukraine.

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Russia's withdrawal 'had been planned for some time'

The Syrian presidency has said Russia's decision to withdraw from the country was "coordinated" and had been planned "for some time".

In a statement, it added the pull out did not reflect a difference between the two countries.

"The whole subject happened in complete coordination between the Russian and Syrian sides."

'We need action from Putin in Syria now, not words'

Saim al-Muslet said 'it's time to give Syria back to the Syrian people'. Credit: APTN

The Syrian opposition has said it was now "important to see action instead of words" from Russia after Putin announced his troops were pulling out of the country.

Spokesman Saim al-Muslet said it was a "positive step" but that the Russian leader should stand beside the Syrian people instead of Assad.

He added: "We need to reach a solution that ends the suffering of Syrian people.

"The revolution in Syria is entering a sixth year tomorrow and we hope that these coming days will bring them good news and hope to give Syria back to the Syrians.

"And to let those Syrians who were forced to leave to come back to their own country and rebuild it, on peace and forgiveness, not on hatred and revenge."

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Athletics 'blacklist' warning for five countries

Lord Coe was elected IAAF president in August Credit: PA

Five more countries risk joining Russia on an international athletics blacklist, the IAAF has announced.

Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya, Ukraine and Belarus have all been ordered to make major changes to their anti-doping programmes by the governing body ahead of the Rio Olympics.

The announcement comes after Russia was told on Friday it must wait until May to discover if its suspension will be lifted in time for the summer Games.

There are no immediate sanctions - it is just a wake-up call at this point - but serious sanctions, provided for under IAAF rules, will only be considered if they don't comply with council requirements.

– Lord Sebastian Coe, IAAF President

Banned Russia 'may not make it back' for 2016 Olympics

Mr Pound is Wada's chairman on the commission into allegations of Russian doping. Credit: Reuters

The Russian athletics federation "may not make it back" for the summer Olympics in Brazil, a former World Anti-Doping Agency president has said.

Dick Pound says that Wada and the International Association of Athletics Federations will not risk their reputations by "rolling over".

Russia's athletics federation has been banned by the IAAF following allegations of widespread doping, and must meet a series of conditions before being readmitted.

His remarks also come after tennis ace Maria Sharapova admitted taking a banned substance.

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