Syria’s president claims the backing of the Syrian people and criticises Barack Obama and Europe. He announces changes: local elections in December, parliamentary elections in February 2012, a new law on freedom of expression by the end of Ramadan and changes to the constitution to allow for a multiparty system. Today UN Human Rights Commission held an emergency meeting to discuss Syria. A UN humanitarian mission also arrived in Damascus today.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has no intention of resigning. Instead, he plans to hold local elections next December and parliamentary elections in February 20102. In a 42-minute interview on state television, he calmly answered questions, which appeared to be pre-staged, made to him by two journalists. In fact, his answers were a response to criticism coming from the United States and the European Union. Overall, he dismissed all accusations and defended his regime.
On the issue of future elections, he said that Article 8 of the constitution, which describes Baa‘th as the “leading party in society and the state”, constitutes the core “of the political regime” and that many other articles are linked to it. Abrogating one without changing the others is “not logical”. For this, an overall reform of the constitution is needed. An ad hoc commission would be set up to prepare such a revision over the next three to six months.
During the meeting of the party’s central committee last Thursday, which he chaired, the issue was on the table. How the party could preserve its position over the next decades was also discussed.
In the interview, Assad said that the rules implementing the new election law would be issued within three days. Equally, new rules on how parties could be established would also be made public. Thus, new groups would be able to organise for the upcoming elections. A new media and freedom of expression law would also be issued by the end of Ramadan, which falls at the end of August.
Speaking about the current situation and the street protests, the president acknowledged that they had turned “violent” in recent weeks but that now “things were better”. He insisted that Syria needed “a political solution, but when faced with security problems, it was necessary to react with security forces, i.e. police, security services and anti-terror fight.”
The regime will thus continue to, as he put it, “protect people against terrorists” and “armed gangs”, even though for the international community, such action is a “cruel crackdown on the opposition”.
The president did not elaborate on what he said a few days ago when he told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that military operations against the opposition were over (see “Assad to Ban Ki-moon: the military operations are over ,” in AsiaNews, 18 August 2011). However, Syrian media totally ignored the conversion with the UN leader.
Assad dismissed appeals by US President Barack Obama and the European Union to step aside. He insisted that he had been “elected by the Syrian people” and “not designated by the United States or the West”.
In addition, he said that any military intervention against Syria would have negative consequences for its authors given Syria’s “geopolitical position” and “potential”. Sanctions would also have no effect on the Syrian economy, he added.
Late in the evening, demonstrations broke out in various cities to protest the president’s interview.
At the same time though, some opposition groups objected to the ‘National Council’, which was supposed to meet in Istanbul to prepare a ‘post-Assad’ Syria, but failed to take any decision.
Meanwhile, a United Nations humanitarian mission arrived in Damascus today. It is scheduled to complete the first phase of its inquiry by this Friday.
Chaired by Rashid Khalikov, director of the Geneva-based Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the mission will examine the situation of displaced people and the population in general. The UN made its request in May but Assad accepted it only last week.
The UN Human Rights Council also held an emergency meeting today in Geneva after 24 of its 47 members (including four Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Jordan) made the request in order to look at human rights violations in Syria.
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