Miguel Medina / AFP - Getty Images
A 2008 photo shows Syrian first lady Asma Assad visiting the Louvre museum in Paris.
The European Union banned the wife of Syrian President Bashar Assad from traveling to the EU or shopping at European companies in a move to stop her from buying the Chanel dresses and Louboutin shoes she apparently craves.
The EU's latest round of sanctions, which also targeted the president's mother and sister, is notable for including Assad's London-born wife Asma, whose luxury shopping habit was laid bare this month in a cache of hacked emails.
Assad has been the target of sanctions since May last year, but these have so far had little impact on his policies. Violence has intensified in Syria in recent weeks as pro-government forces bombard rebel towns and villages, looking to sweep their lightly armed opponents out of their strongholds.
After Friday's decision, EU border guards will refuse Asma entry if she tries to travel into the bloc, though Britain will have to allow her in if she uses a British passport.
"British nationals, British passport holders do obviously have a right of entry to the United Kingdom," Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
"But given that we are imposing an asset freeze on all of these individuals, and a travel ban on other members of the same family and the regime, we're not expecting Mrs. Assad to try to travel to the United Kingdom at the moment," he said.
Europe's attempts to punish Syria's brutal regime turned today to the British-born wife of President Assad. Asma Assad was banned from traveling to Europe and her financial assets were frozen. But the sanctions may be largely impotent, as a UK passport holder she can't be prevented from entering the UK. ITV's Paul Davies reports
A former investment banker, Asma Assad once cultivated the image of a serious-minded woman inspired by liberal values.
But she appears to have continued a life of luxury shopping and entertainment during the uprising against the four-decade rule of the Assad family, while according to the United Nations at least 8,000 people have been killed in the violence.
Emails she exchanged with her husband, obtained by Britain's Guardian newspaper, apparently showed they were buying pop music and luxury goods on the internet during the bloodshed.
Making sanctions personal
Asma Assad, a 36-year-old mother of three, was shown to have a penchant for crystal-encrusted Christian Louboutin shoes and Chanel dresses from France.
Before the Syrian insurgency started a year ago, a glowing article in Vogue magazine described her as "a rose in the desert" and her household as "wildly democratic."
But that image has crumbled as the emails showed her spending tens of thousands of pounds on jewels, fancy furniture, and a Venetian glass vase from Harrods.
EU foreign ministers also added other Syrians to a list of those facing asset freezes and bans on travel to the bloc, and barred EU companies from doing business with two Syrian oil companies, EU officials said.
The decisions, which come into force on Saturday, follow 12 previous rounds of sanctions aimed at isolating Assad within Syria and cutting off his sources of finance. These included an arms embargo and a ban on importing Syrian oil into the EU.
"With this new listing we are striking at the heart of the Assad clan, sending out a loud and clear message to Mr. Assad: he should step down," Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the international community's objective was "a situation where Assad recognizes his responsibility, moves aside and we are able to see a genuine movement forward in Syria".
The international community has struggled to formulate a joint approach to Syria in the face of opposition from Russia and China to U.N. Security Council resolutions proposed by the West.
French foreign minister Alain Juppe called on the Syrian opposition to unite and present a plan to EU leaders. Such a move had been crucial for the Libyan opposition last year, and had helped galvanize Western support.
It is a priority "to convince the opposition to get together and organize itself. You can't win when you're divided," he said. "I make a reference to the National Transition Council in Libya, which came to Brussels to present its political road map, and that had a lot of impact to give it credibility. The Syrian opposition needs to do the same."
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