Diplomats press Assad, top Syrian general defects

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, right, speaks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during a meeting , in Paris, Friday July 6, 2012. Syrian opposition leaders are pressing diplomats at an international conference for a no-fly zone over Syria, but the U.S. and its European and Arab partners are expected to focus on economic sanctions instead. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

PARIS (AP) — France's foreign minister says a top general who defected from Syria is en route to France, where international diplomats are meeting to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad.

French minister Laurent Fabius told the international Friends of Syria conference Friday that Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass "has defected."

The defection dealt a major blow to Assad, who has been sharply criticized for his regime's violent crackdown on dissent.

At Friday's conference in Paris, Washington urged countries around the world to pressure fellow U.N. Security Council members Russia and China into forcing Assad to leave power.

Tlass was a member of Syria's elite Republican Guards and a son of a former defense minister.