EU bans Syrian president’s wife from travel, shopping

BRUSSELS, (Reuters) – The European Union banned the wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from travelling to the EU or shopping with European companies in a move to stop her 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.

She was once admired for her cosmopolitan glamour, but has over the past year turned into a hate figure for many Syrians, standing by her husband as he conducts a crackdown against a popular uprising in which thousands have been killed.

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.

A former investment banker, Asma al-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 al-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.

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