AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
TOKYO: Japan has told the Syrian ambassador in Tokyo to leave the country, the foreign ministry said Wednesday, as international outrage grows over brutal mass slayings blamed on the government in Damascus.
The Japanese government asked Mohamed Ghassan Al Habash to depart "as soon as possible," an official told AFP.
The move lines Tokyo up with many of its Western allies who have kicked out Syrian diplomats after expressing disgust over the massacre of civilians in Houla.
"This is an action to show Japan´s protest to Syria over not only the violence, but also the latest intense violation of human rights" the official said.
"The Japanese government made this move in coordination with other states," he said.
Tokyo gave no definite time frame for the expulsion.
Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told a news conference Japan would maintain diplomatic ties with Syria.
On Tuesday, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States all kicked out the highest ranking Syrian diplomats in their countries in a bid to increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad´s regime.
The coordinated expulsions followed mounting international outrage over the massacre on Friday in the central town of Houla, in which at least 108 people, including 49 children, were killed, according to UN figures.
In the US, where the highest ranking diplomat was given 72 hours to pack his bags, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said: "We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives".
Nuland said the massacre was "the most unambiguous indictment to date" of Syria´s flagrant UN Security Council violations and urged all countries to "condemn the actions of the Assad regime through similar action."
Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Switzerland followed suit, while Belgium declared the Syrian ambassador "persona non grata" but said he could not be expelled as he was also EU envoy and there was no unanimity in the 27-nation bloc.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the expulsion of the top Syrian diplomat in London and two other envoys would send out a "stark message."
The move was aimed at stacking pressure on senior figures in the regime, "to get the message across to them that they have to choose, that time will run out for Assad," Hague said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: "We are aiming to ensure that our unmistakable message does not fall on deaf ears in Damascus."
The international community has struggled to present a united front against Assad, with Syria´s long-time ally Russia frequently providing diplomatic cover.
However, Moscow, which is urging world powers to concentrate on ending the spiralling violence rather than pursue regime change, called for a UN-led probe into last week´s massacre, which also wounded 300 villagers.
"At this stage, there should be an objective and impartial investigation conducted under the auspices of the UN monitoring mission in Syria," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
In signs of growing Western frustration at Assad´s 14-month crackdown, Belgium called for a foreign military presence in Syria and French President Francois Hollande said the use of armed force was possible under UN auspices.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius laid bare the dilemma facing Western powers as he forcefully condemned Assad in calling for his departure but accepted that a ground invasion could not be contemplated.
"Assad is the murderer of his people. He must leave power... the sooner the better," Fabius told Le Monde newspaper. "No state is willing to consider today a ground operation. The risks of regional extension would be formidable, especially in Lebanon."
Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet Hollande for a working dinner in Paris on Friday.