Sunday, January 22, 2012


Bashar al-Assad given ultimatum to oversee transition to democracy

Bashar al-Assad, the embattled president of Syria, was given an ultimatum last night by his Arab League neighbours to abandon his monopoly on power, create a coalition government with the oppositon and oversee a transition to democracy within six months.

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"It is not a quality of Arab leaders to kill their people," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Photo: AFP/GETTY

By Richard Spencer, Cairo and Ruth Sherlock in Beirut
11:45PM GMT 22 Jan 2012
After a day of intense argument, League leaders made an unprecedented decision to decide how an Arab nation should constitute its government.

And for the second time in a year after its intervention over Libya, it sought United Nations security council approval for its actions, raising the longer term prospect of international action. Sheikh Hamad bin Jaseem al-Thani, the prime minister of Qatar reiterated warnings that the League could send in peacekeeping troops to separate the sides in an emerging civil war.

"The new Arab initiative adopted by the foreign ministers envisages the peaceful departure of the Syrian regime," he said, adding that it mirrored a Gulf-led deal to ease President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen from power last year.

The meeting of Arab foreign ministers lasted six hours longer than scheduled. The leader of the monitoring mission to Syria, Gen. Mustafa al-Dabi, had recommended extending it for another month, and was backed by the secretary-general, Nabil al-Araby, even though he also accused Mr Assad of exploiting it for his own purposes.

An extension had been fiercely opposed by Syrian opposition groups who claimed it gave licence to Mr Assad to "carry on killing”.

Saudi Arabia, the major Gulf power, announced it was pulling its observers out.

"It is not a quality of Arab leaders to kill their people," a statement by its foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said, accusing the Assad regime of using the mission to "hide its crimes".

The offer that emerged was a compromise, but a detailed one. It said Mr Assad should open a dialogue with the opposition within two weeks, form a coalition government in two months, and then allow free elections.

It was not clear whether the League had sought a response in advance from Mr Assad, but he was also facing an ever bleaker situation at home. Activists said they were in control of Douma, a town on the outskirts of Damascus itself and just 10 miles from the city centre, after the army was forced to withdraw.

Clashes began on Saturday evening at the funeral of Mohammed Said Maddah, a protester who had been shot dead, according to Omar al-Khani, of the Syrian Revolutionary Command in Damascus.

"When the martyr's body arrived, along with the funeral procession, the criminal Assad gangs waged a surprise attack and shot at them," he said.

Gun battles with the rebel Free Syrian Army led to the government troops eventually withdrawing.

"The FSA gathered near Hawwa mosque," said an activist who claimed to have been present at the funeral. "Then they advanced attacking the Syrian troops stationed at the end of the street.

"The fighting continued for four hours, and the FSA managed to kill seven or eight troops and capture one officer".

Douma is the second town near Damascus to have declared itself free of government control, after Zabadani to the west.

Rebels hope that they can become hubs of further resistance, as Benghazi did in Libya. "He is getting weaker day by day. More frequently now the leaders of the troops run away," said the Douma activist.

Mr al-Araby said the presence of monitors was softening the regime’s stance. It may also have been keen to avoid the fighting necessary to reclaim the two towns while the Arab League decided on its next steps.

Saudi Arabia calls for outside intervention in Syra 22 Jan 2012
Syria: Arab League 'to extend monitoring mission' 22 Jan 2012
Syrian opposition want Assad referred to UN 21 Jan 2012
US Syrian embassy to close 20 Jan 2012
Syrian protesters run from gunfire 20 Jan 2012
Syrian town to become hub of armed resistance 19 Jan 2012


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