French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Saturday called for urgent action to bring about a power transfer in Syria that excludes President Bashar al-Assad. “Given the enormous price paid already by the Syrian people... it is more urgent than ever to act to overcome differences in favour of a political transition,” Le Drian told a security forum in the United Arab Emirates. He said the change should be “a transition in which president Assad would no longer keep his place”. The minister’s remarks came after the umbrella opposition National Council said it refused to accept Assad in any talks on ending Syria’s 23-month conflict, as part of a “framework” it has drawn up for a political solution. China and Russia have blocked three resolutions at the UN Security Council that would have threatened sanctions against the Assad regime over its brutal crackdown on democracy protests that erupted in March 2011. The crackdown triggered an armed uprising, and the United Nations says the conflict has killed nearly 70,000 people.