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Middle East
Syria's opposition dismisses amnesty gesture
Amnesty offer hailed as too little too late, as opposition members meet in Turkey to plan country's future.
Last Modified: 01 Jun 2011 11:17

Syrian opposition members have rejected an amnesty offer by President Bashar al Assad as a token concession in order to contain a crisis that has called the legitimacy of the current leadership into question.

The deal and the leadership has been "rejected and revoked", Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian pro-democracy activist, said.

Exiled opposition leaders and members met on Wednesday to close ranks and forge a plan for a "new, democratic Syria", in a gathering of activists 10 weeks since an uprising against Baathist rule began.

During the conference, members of the opposition will form a committee in order to liaise with the international community.

The conference, hosted in the Turkish coastal city of Antalya, brings together a broad spectrum of opposition figures driven abroad over the last three decades; from Muslim politicians crushed in the 1980s to Christians escaping repression.

US criticism

Meanwhile, in its harshest criticism to date, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the government was ignoring people's pleas.

"President Assad has a choice, and every day that goes by, the choice is made by default. He has not called an end to the violence against his own people, and he has not engaged seriously in any kind of reform efforts."

Answering a question about concerns for a stronger US reaction, Clinton said: "You know, we've obviously, along with others, imposed sanctions, spoken out, we've closely coordinated with allies and partners."

"We've imposed an arms embargo, we've led the call for a special session in the United Nations."

The president's amnesty, aired via state-run media, offered a pardon on all political crimes committed before May 31, 2011 and includes all members of political movements, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as well as all political prisoners.

Membership in the Brotherhood, which led an armed rebellion against Assad's father in 1982, had been punishable by death in Syria.

Representative body

Abdulhamid, one of the delegates attending the opposition meeting, said the gathering "hopes to create a representative body that can be accepted by the protesters inside Syria that can meet their demands in terms of the opposition trying to play a role in getting their voices heard by the international community".

"This is not going to be any kind of government in exile," he told Al Jazeera, "simply a group of people who are willing to represent the movement internationally because the world cannot engage on a revolution that does not have any recognisable representatives.


"Our hope is to fuel that kind of body on an interim basis until such time that the Syrian people can freely elect a transitional council inside the country that can lead the country to democracy."

Turkey's foreign minister has welcomed Syria's announcement of an amnesty for political prisoners but stressed it should be followed by "comprehensive reform," Anatolia news agency reported.

"A general amnesty has been necessary for political reform," Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television interview.

"The amnesty would be useful "in principle" but would fail to resolve Syria's turmoil unless followed by a reform process that would have the effect of "a shock therapy" on the Syrian people, he said.

"I hope this is the first step of a comprehensive reform. This step is important, like a signal rocket."

Turkey, whose ties with its southern neighbour have flourished in recent years, has piled pressure on al-Assad to initiate reform, but has stopped short of calling for his departure.

While France, through its foreign minister, Alain Juppe, demanded "more ambitious and bolder" action from Syria: "I fear that it might already be too late," Juppe told France Culture radio.

Juppe said he regretted that Western governments had been unable to get the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution criticising Syria and blamed the opposition of veto-wielding permanent member Russia for the failure.

Blame negated

Syria has blamed the violence in the country on armed groups, Islamists and foreign agitators, saying more than 120 police and soldiers have been killed in the unrest.

The European Union last week ordered an assets freeze and travel ban on Assad himself, the latest in a string of sanctions against his regime.

Stepping up pressure on Assad to halt weeks of relentless violence, the EU earlier this month imposed an arms embargo and targeted the president's innermost circle, including his brother and four cousins.

Activists say that at least 10,000 people have been arrested since the start of the popular uprising almost two months ago.

Accurate information from Syria is difficult to confirm, as journalists have largely been denied access, but human rights groups say that more than 1,000 protesters have been killed since the uprising started.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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