"Our position is that we do not want any reform project to be dictated to us from abroad. Reforms must spring from the specifics of the region and not through the diktats of external forces," Syrian Information Minister Ahmad al-Hasan told the London-based daily Arabic newspaper al-Hayat on Sunday. 

"No regime would accept the implementation of reforms under external pressure or diktats from abroad." 

Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both with close US ties, said last week the Arab world was going through its own reforms and would reject any change imposed from outside. 

'Middle East Initiative'

They were reacting to Washington's Greater Middle East Initiative, which proposes funding for projects which would promote free elections, civil society, the empowerment of women and the modernisation of education. 

Relations between Syria and the United States have been strained for years because of US support for Israel and US complaints about the presence in Damascus of Lebanese and Palestinian armed groups. 

Al-Hasan defended Syria's emergency laws on the grounds that part of the country, the Golan Heights, is under Israeli occupation. The laws, in force since 1963, give the security authorities wide powers of detention. 

"There is no country in the world which has part of its territory under occupation that does not have exceptional laws that might be used if its security is at risk," he said. 

Sudan objection

"No regime would accept the implementation of reforms under external pressure or diktats from abroad." 

Ahmad al-Hasan,
Syrian Information Minister

The US State Department, in its annual human rights report released last week, said members of the Syrian security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses in 2003. 

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Usman Ismail, arriving in Cairo on Sunday for Arab League meetings, also objected to the Greater Middle East Initiative. 

"The countries which want to impose reform from outside must know that this will fail as long as it is not in the framework of a partnership," he told reporters.