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Middle east

Syria’s Assad legalises multi-party politics

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-08-04

Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad has issued a decree authorising opposition parties to compete alongside his ruling Baath party in a bid to appease defiant anti-government protesters. 37 people died in the latest bloodshed Wednesday.

AFP - Syria's embattled president issued a decree on Thursday allowing opposition political parties, state media said after the UN Security Council condemned his regime's deadly crackdown on democracy protests.

In the latest bloodshed, witnesses and activists said security forces killed at least 37 people on Wednesday, 30 of them as tanks shelled the flashpoint protest hub of Hama.

Portrait of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad

A Hama resident, who managed to escape the city, told AFP in Nicosia that "the bodies of 30 people who were killed during shelling by the army have been buried in several public parks."

The witness, who declined to be identified for security reasons, said scores of people were being treated in hospitals for injuries and that fires had broken out in several buildings.

"Tanks are deployed throughout the city, particularly in Assi Square and outside the citadel," he said about landmarks in the city centre.

The witness said the army had used "bombs that break up into fragments when they explode," possibly meaning cluster bombs, on Wednesday and that Hama echoed with the intermittent sound of machine-gun fire on Thursday.

"Conditions are very difficult in the city. Communications, electricity and water are cut and there are food shortages," he said, adding that snipers were positioned on the roofs of private hospitals.

In Deir Ezzor, meanwhile, "private hospitals and pharmacies have shut down after doctors walked out because they are afraid that the army could storm them as part of a military operation which is expected to target' the eastern city, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

President Bashar al-Assad authorised the "Parties Law, which was earlier adopted as a bill by the government following a series of thorough discussions by lawmakers, intellectuals and Syrian citizens," said state news agency SANA.

The new law allows political parties to be set up alongside Assad's Baath party, in power since 1963 with the constitutional status of "the leader of state and society."


Political pluralism has been at the forefront of demands by pro-reform dissidents who since March 15 have been taking to the streets across Syria almost daily to call for greater freedoms.

"Citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic have the right to establish political parties and join them in accordance with this law," SANA said, and stressed parties would have to commit "to the constitution, principles of democracy and the rule of law."

Assad's regime has used brutal force to crush the movement, killing more than 1,600 civilians and arresting thousands, according to human rights activists.

Demonstrators have vowed to protest every night of Ramadan following evening prayers despite the assault on Hama and the killing of some 120 people across the country on the eve of the Muslim holy month of fasting.

The law on political parties is the latest attempt by Assad's regime to appease protesters.

In April, Assad issued orders lifting five decades of draconian emergency rule and abolishing the feared state security courts.

In a speech on June 20, he said talks could lead to a new constitution and even end his Baath party's monopoly on power, but refused to reform Syria under "chaos."

But activists say the deadly unrest and wave of arrests have not abated.

The latest concession came only hours after the UN Security Council condemned the deadly crackdown and said those responsible should be held accountable.
Towns and cities in red have seen anti-government uprisings.

Unable to agree on a formal resolution, the council settled on a non-binding statement condemning "the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities."

"Those responsible for the violence should be held accountable," it said, in its first pronouncement on the Syrian crisis since the protests began.

Western powers had hoped for stronger action at the Security Council but were rebuffed by veto-wielding members Russia and China, who feared doing so would pave the way for another military intervention like the one in Libya.

Amnesty International deemed the UN action "completely inadequate" and "deeply disappointing," saying the "best the Security Council can come up with is a limp statement that is not legally binding and does not refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.

"The UN must act now, with a firm and legally binding position. At the very least, its position must include imposing an arms embargo, freezing the assets of (Assad) and other officials suspected of responsibility for crimes against humanity and referring the situation to the ICC Prosecutor," Amnesty's UN representative Jose Luis Diaz added in a statement.
TIMELINE: SYRIAN UPRISING

Date created : 2011-08-04

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