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'The regime in Syria is not as strong as it seems'

Faced with an unprecedented movement against its authority, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government is not as powerful as once thought, a Syrian rights activist tells FRANCE 24.

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At least 37 people were killed and hundreds wounded in the southern Syrian city of Deraa on Friday, as the protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad entered a fourth week.

Haytham Manna, a spokesman for the Arab Commission of Human Rights and an exiled Syrian, tells FRANCE 24 that despite the brutal crackdown, protesters are not giving up their demands.

FRANCE 24: What is the death toll so far in Syria and who is behind the crackdown?

Haytham Manna: We have a list of 180 names of people killed in Syria since the uprising began four weeks ago. There have been 130 victims alone in the city of Deraa, in the south of the country. We also have around 40 missing people and 600 others that have been arrested by security forces. As to who is giving the orders to fire live ammunition at crowds, there are two theories. The first is that the orders are coming from the central leadership, and in this case not only the shooters, but also President Bashar al-Assad must be held accountable. The second possibility is that the orders are not coming from a central command, in which case the Syrian president must separate himself from the criminals by bringing them to justice. Who governs Syria, the security forces, the president or his younger brother Maher al-Assad? The question has not yet been answered.

F24: What possible outcomes can you envision, and will protesters agree to stop?

H.M.: The entire population has rejected President Assad’s speech, and his many promises. Neither he nor his entourage are capable of responding to the country’s demands. Despite all the deaths and the regime’s attempts to provoke violence in order to discredit the movement, the population insists on peaceful protest. Freedom is their first demand. That can only happen if the emergency rule is lifted and if the constitution is changed to promote the rule of law. This will guarantee individual freedoms and tackle the corruption that has plagued the country for years. All this to end the authoritarian regime in Syria. People are impatient to see results, just as we saw among Egyptians and Tunisians.

F24: The Syrian government seems to be resisting popular pressure. How strong is it?

H.M.: Despite all the repression, the regime is not as strong as it seems. It is certainly a strong force against organised political opposition, but when faced with the people, it is in turmoil. Faced with young people, the traditional security methods do not work. The accumulation of uprisings and the phenomenon of civil disobedience is gaining pace. Something has definitely changed in Syria, and there is no turning back now.

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