Thursday, October 20, 2005

News Round Up: Oct 20, 2005

Katherine Zoepf of the NY Times, who has been living in and reporting from Damascus for over a year, helps us put the "Damascus Declaration" made by the Syrian opposition this week into perspective.

Syria's Opposition Unites Behind a Call for Democratic Changes
October 20, 2005

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 19 - As international pressure on Syria rises, the country's historically quarrelsome and divided opposition groups have issued a broad call for democratic change in the form of a statement that is being called the "Damascus declaration."

The Damascus declaration, which was issued on Oct. 16, calls for an end to Syria's emergency laws and other forms of political repression, and for a national conference on democratic change.

The statement comes at a particularly tense time for Syria, which is being pressed by the United States and other Western nations to stop foreign fighters from crossing its eastern border into Iraq and to end its suspected interference in Lebanese and Palestinian affairs.

The statement was published just days before the anticipated release this week of a report by Detlev Mehlis, a United Nations investigator, on the Feb. 14 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

Syrian officials have been interviewed recently by United Nations investigators, and the possibility that the report may reveal a Syrian role in the Hariri killing has been causing intense anxiety in political circles here.

President Bashar Assad of Syria is also perceived to be strengthening his hold on power in a series of crackdowns, further adding to the sense of gloom that has gripped Damascus.

Marwan Kabalan, a Damascus University political scientist, said the declaration was a response to these pressures, an effort on the part of Syrian opposition groups to put aside their differences and to demonstrate to the world that a coherent alternative to the Assad regime is emerging inside Syria.

"This is a huge development for the opposition within Syria," Dr. Kabalan said. "For the first time we're seeing a blueprint for reconstituting Syria's political process."

The announcement was backed by an unusually diverse collection of politicians and activists, including human rights campaigners, Communists, Kurdish nationalists, overseas Syrian exiles, the imprisoned Parliament member Riad Seif and the London-based Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned in Syria for more than two decades but is believed to enjoy continuing popular support.

Anwar al-Bunni, a prominent Syrian rights lawyer, said the declaration demonstrated that there was a democratic alternative to the Baathists, the nationalist and nominally socialist party that has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.

"The regime wants the world to believe that if they go, it is only Islamists and radicals who will come to replace them," Mr. Bunni said. "It is high time to publish this statement. Syria really needs all the world to know that there is a replacement for Assad that is democratic and liberal."

Joshua Landis, an expert in Syrian history at the University of Oklahoma who has been spending the year in Syria on a Fulbright research fellowship, said the declaration was an indication that Syria's internal opposition is maturing.

"Everyone has discounted the Syrian opposition and written them off as a joke," Dr. Landis said. "The Mehlis report is coming out, and it's crunch time in Syria.

"The West has been waking up to the fact that there is no alternative to Bashar Assad, and the opposition has to move quickly. They need to show the world that they are capable of real organization, and to show Syrians that there is a third way and that they don't have to choose between Bush and chaos."
Rice Says Bush is not Taking Military Option Against Syria Off the Table
The United States, France and Britain are lobbying for two new Security Council resolutions next week, squarely condemning the Assad regime of still meddling in Lebanon's domestic affairs and clamping stricter international sanctions against Syria, ...more

Saad Hariri Expects International Trial of His Father's Assassins
"We could not carry out the investigation and requested the help of the U.N. Of course we will demand an international trial," the MP told reporters in Cairo after a meeting with Arab League chief Amr Mussa.

"Mehlis' report will be clear and we will find out who committed the crime," Hariri said.

Lebanon's parliamentary majority leader also held a two-hour meeting with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak that focused on the much-awaited report and developments in Lebanon and Lebanese-Syrian relations since the assassination.

"Lebanon's stability is important to Egypt," said Hariri, whose aides said he was due to travel on to Saudi Arabia.(AFP)
Assad Washes Hands from Hariri's Blood Anew
"We are 100 percent innocent," Assad was quoted as telling the German weekly Die Zeit. "We have absolutely no understanding for such crimes."
France arrests Syrian witness in UN probe of Hariri killing
By The Associated Press
Last Update: 17/10/2005 13:41
PARIS - French police arrested a former Syrian intelligence officer who is considered an important witness in a UN probe of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, police and judicial officials said Monday.

Mohammed Zuhair Al-Siddiq was taken into custody on Sunday in the Paris area by France's DST counterintelligence service, police officials in France said. He was the subject of an international arrest warrant and is expected to be extradited, the officials said.

The arrest warrant, issued by Lebanese Magistrate Elias Eid, accused Al-Siddiq of giving false testimony and misleading the U.N. investigation, judicial officials in Lebanon said.


At 10/20/2005 01:41:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...



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