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Middle East
Syrian opposition rejects 'national dialogue'
Opposition figures boycott meeting in Damascus which government says is to discuss a framework for dialogue on reform.
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2011 09:36



Syria has opened a "national dialogue" that it hailed as a step towards multi-party democracy after five
decades of Baath party rule.

The government said the discussions would include a new media law but the credibility of Sunday's talks appeared to have been undermined by an opposition boycott.

Al Jazeera's correspondent, Rula Amin, reported from Beirut, "We have to remember that whoever is there came on an invitation from the government.

"The opposition figures who we spoke to, said that we heard very nice words but what we want to see is actions and deeds. Word wise, this is unprecedented, beyond that, this meeting will not bring any results.

"Before it is seen as [a] serious [attempt], they have to see action on the ground, the [security] forces have to be withdrawn. As otherwise everything that is said is meaningless."

Delegates at the two-day meeting in Damascus, the capital, observed a minute's silence in memory of the "martyrs" before the national anthem was played.

"We are going to hold a comprehensive national dialogue during which we will announce Syria's transition towards a multi-party democratic state in which everyone will be equal and able to participate in the building of the nation's future," Faruq al-Shara, Syria's vice president, said in his opening address.

President Bashar al-Assad announced the dialogue in a keynote speech on June 20, only his third address since unprecedented protests against his rule erupted in mid-March.

The government said that delegates would be invited to discuss a wide range of reforms, including amending Clause Eight of the constitution which enshrines the leading role of the Baath party in Syrian political life.

Delegates were expected to include some independent MPs as well as members of the Baath party, in power since 1963.

But opposition figures said they would boycott the meeting in protest at the government's continued deadly crackdown on dissent.

A Facebook call for nationwide demonstrations against participation in the dialogue brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets on Friday.

Security forces killed at least 15 people and arrested more than 200 during Friday's demonstrations against the dialogue, activists said.

Since the protests began, the government has killed more than 1,300 civilians and arrested at least 12,000, human rights groups say.

"If you hear the protesters, they dismissed these talks and they say that there do not represent them. But there will be people who will say that still this is progress," added our correspondent.

"The test is how the government will proceed from here and how these words will be translated into action.

"We heard very harsh statements in that room, even by people who are pro-government. Some said that the security system has to be dismantled. These are major transformations, for people to speak about, and covered by state television."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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