Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called Kofi Annan's resignation as Syria peace envoy a "great shame" that should not deter efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

"Kofi Annan is a man of great merit, a brilliant diplomat and a very honest person, so it is a great shame," Russian news agencies quoted Putin as saying prior to his departure from a brief visit to London.

"But I hope that the international community's efforts will remain focused on ending the violence," he added.

Russia had identified Annan's attempts to open direct dialogue between its Soviet-era ally Damascus and the armed Syrian opposition as the only way to stop 17 months of violence that activists believe has claimed 20,000 lives.

Annan's original six-point peace plan was endorsed by Russia in March and used by Moscow as the primary argument against backing any sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Russia also backed a new Annan-endorsed initiative at a heated June 30 summit in Geneva that provided for a political transition in Syria while making no explicit call for Assad to step down.

Moscow argues that Assad remains the most popular politician in Syria and has branded Western and Arab calls for his ouster one-sided attempts to impose regime change.

Annan resigned after saying that he "did not receive all the support that the cause deserved."


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