Syria accuses fundamentalists of stirring unrest
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Last Updated: Monday, March 28, 2011, 10:08
  
Damascus: Muslim fundamentalists who aim to destroy religious coexistence in Syria are behind the unrest hitting the country but will "fail again", presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban said on Sunday.

Shaaban, a high-profile adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, also said authorities have made the decision to lift emergency rule, which has been in force since the Baath party came into power in 1963.

"These are fundamentalists (behind the violence) who hate to see Syria as an example of peaceful coexistence," Shaaban said in an interview in Damascus.

"I think this is target number one: coexistence in Syria, and it is very different, it is separate, from the legitimate demands of the Syrian people."

More than 30 people have been confirmed killed in a spiral of violence that has gripped Syria since a wave of dissent broke out earlier this month.

While the violence initially centred on Daraa, a tribal town at the southern border with Jordan, unrest has spilled into other cities, including the religiously diverse northern port city of Latakia.

The majority of Syria's 22.5 million population are Sunni Muslims. The country is also home to Christians and a minority Alawite Muslim community, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, who have long coexisted side-by-side.

Political power in Syria has been in the hands of the Alawite-controlled Baath party for close to 50 years.

President Assad, who is facing unprecedented domestic pressure since rising to power in 2000, succeeded his late father Hafez al-Assad as leader of the Middle Eastern powerhouse.

Hafez al-Assad dealt harshly with domestic opposition, and in 1982 launched a crackdown on Islamists in the town of Hama, where tens of thousands of people were killed in Army bombardments.

Today, Shaaban holds Islamist movements responsible for attempting to pit Syria's confessional communities against one another.

"We trust our people. They were the ones who defeated the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982. Without the help of the Syrian people, we never could have defeated them," she said.

"The Muslim Brothers never forgave, and they want to do it again. But they will fail again.”

"I think they used what happened in Tunisia and Egypt to say that this is the same thing," she added. "But it's not the same thing."

While access to cities like Daraa has been restricted to journalists, demonstrators have reportedly continued to hit the streets there in increasingly angry rallies.

"Those who want to remove their governor, who have problems with water, who have problems with their land, who want better salaries, these are legitimate demands by our people," Shaaban said.

Assad is expected to address his country in the days to come, but there is no confirmation that he will officially announce that the emergency law had been lifted.

Syria's emergency law, written in December 1962, imposes restrictions on public gatherings and movement and authorises the arrest of "suspects or persons who threaten security".

The law also authorises interrogation of any individual and the surveillance of personal communication as well as official control of the content of newspapers and other media before publication.

Shaaban also said talks were underway to adopt new laws on the media and licensing of political parties in Syria, a country long known for its iron grip on security.

"This will all be open to discussion. There are no red lines when it comes to the legitimate demands of our people," she said.

Bureau Report


First Published: Monday, March 28, 2011, 10:08


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