SCO calls for Libya cease-fire

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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) called on Wednesday for a cease-fire in Libya, and urged all sides to strictly abide by UN Security Council resolutions.

In the Astana Declaration, signed by the leaders of the member countries of the regional bloc, the SCO expressed its concerns over the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. 

It said the group supported countries in North Africa and the Middle East developing democracy in accordance with their own history and cultural traditions.

"We believe that domestic conflict and crisis can only be peacefully resolved through political negotiation, and the international community's actions should strictly abide by international law and be conducive to ethnic reconciliation," the declaration said.

Such actions should fully respect Libya's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and comply with the principle of non-interference in its internal affairs, it said.

The declaration was released after leaders of the SCO member and observer countries gathered on Wednesday in the Kazakh capital, Astana, for their annual meeting to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the bloc's founding.

The bloc also backs Russia against US-led missile defense plans in Europe.

"The unilateral and unlimited build-up of missile defense by a single state or by a narrow group of states could damage strategic stability and international security," the six members of the SCO said in the declaration.

Moscow has recently stepped up criticism of US plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe.

The US says its planned shield is meant to reduce the threat of a missile attack by Iran. Moscow says it fears the true aim is to neutralize Russia's own nuclear arsenal, according to Reuters.

While addressing the summit, President Hu Jintao pledged to help build a prosperous and peaceful region.

Member countries should strengthen contact and communication, especially where core interests are involved, and boost their ability to respond quickly to any contingency, Hu said.

As China will hold the rotating presidency of the bloc after the summit, Hu proposed to further push forward the region's economic integration and step up efforts to guarantee energy, food and financial security. "China will continue to offer favorable loans to member states," Hu said.

Hu proposed naming next year SCO friendship year, a proposal welcomed by all parties.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged that a road map be drawn up to develop large regional projects by the end of the year.

He said that joint economic projects could include the setting up of a venture fund, a commercial center and the establishment of a feasibility fund that would look at the suitability of potential projects, according to Russian news agency, RIA Novosti.

Trend news agency reported that Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov supported the establishment of the SCO Development Bank to finance major projects in Central Asia.

"The SCO will become an attractive structure if it assumes specific commitments. The establishment of the SCO bank will effectively resolve the challenges of development," Karimov said.

Chen Yurong, an expert on the bloc at the China Institute of International Studies, said after 10 years of political and economic cooperation and joint military exercises, the group has become more institutionalized.

"China has taken on a great responsibility at the start of the second '10 years' with its presidency and has to make a concrete contribution to the future development of the bloc," she said.

Richard Weitz, an alanlyst at the Washington-based public policy organization, the Hudson Institute, told VOA news that the SCO has a new momentum that even its members did not expect.

"They have all been surprised by how rapidly and well it has developed in its first years. They did not anticipate that," Weitz said.

He said energy is one area that many observers thought would lead to conflict, but instead has led to cooperation.

SCO membership gives countries access to preferential loans from China's Export-Import Bank, he added.

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