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Most Canadian diplomatic staff withdrawn from Syria

Protesters shout slogans as they carry pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Syrian flags during a demonstration in front of the Russian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012, to express gratitude for the Russian position in support of Syria. Russia has said it will use its Security Council veto to block any resolution threatening Syria with sanctions or lacking a clear ban on any foreign military interference.

Bilal Hussein/AP/Bilal Hussein/AP

The Canadian government has withdrawn all but a few core personnel from its diplomatic staff in Syria.

Foreign Minister John Baird and junior foreign minister Diane Ablonczy, who is responsible for consular affairs, issued a joint statement Tuesday saying that while Canada's embassy in Damascus remains open for now, its visa and immigration section has been closed and only limited services are being offered.

"Due to travel restrictions imposed by the Syrian authorities and the ongoing deterioration of the security situation, our ability to help Canadians in other locations in the country has been significantly reduced," the statement said.

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For security reasons, the minister's office said they cannot say how many staff are still at the embassy in Damascus or how many left recently.

The Canadian government gave earlier warning signs that the embassy is on a day-to-day watch to determine if it should remain open. Last week, Canada issued new sanctions against the regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

In mid-December, Ottawa began a "voluntary evacuation" to get Canadian citizens and their family members out of Syria. The month-long effort ended Jan. 14.

Some 300 citizens informed the embassy they had left Syria during that period. The government encourages citizens still in the country to leave while commercial means are still available.

"During the past month, our officials have placed more than 3,400 calls to Canadians that were known to be in Syria," according to Canadian officials. The embassy in Damascus has received more than 470 requests for expedited services.

The United Nations estimates more than 5,400 people have been killed since the Syrian government's crackdown on protestors last March.

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