Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Syria Grants General Amnesty Including to Political Detainees

Syria grants general amnesty including to political detainees

by Fadi Abu Halawa

DAMASCUS, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad issued on Tuesday a decree granting general amnesty to political detainees.

The amnesty will cover all crimes committed before May 31, including those of banned political opposition movements such an Muslim Brotherhood, according to the state-run SANA news agency. It will also commute the sentences for some common crimes committed before May 31 to half.

The amnesty is the second within two months. Al-Assad issued an amnesty last month to minor crimes including theft, forgery and military desertion.

Hasan Abdul Azeem, a political dissident, told Xinhua in an interview that the amnesty should include all the political detainees without any exception and must be accompanied with stopping shooting on peaceful protests and pulling army units out of the cities.

"The authorities must start national dialogue with all representatives to set schedule for the comprehensive reform," Abdul Azeem said.

Al-Assad reportedly ordered earlier Tuesday the formation of a seven-member delegation headed by Vice President Farouq Al-Shara to resolve the country's recent unrest.

Syria has been engulfed with a wave of protests since March 15 calling for reforms and more freedom in the country.

Right groups said thousands of political and right activists were arrested by the authorities. Al-Assad reportedly has released hundreds since he took office in July, 2000.

The president, who are facing unprecedented anti-government protests sweeping the country, has made remarkable concessions including lifting the 48-year state of emergency, sacking the government and carrying out some economic reforms.

The concessions, however, have failed so far to put an end to the mounting pro-change protests, particularly after hundreds of Syrians were reportedly killed in the ten-week turmoil.

While Syrian human rights groups accuse the authorities of killing over 1,000 citizens and with another 10,000 arrested or gone missing, Damascus insists that the unrest is the work of " armed terrorist gangs" propelled by foreign conspiracy.

"The amnesty is a response to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people and a practical application lifting the state of emergency," Syrian journalist Ali al-Shahir told Xinhua.

He added that "the execution of the reform program announced recently by the government needs time as the political leadership is keen on meeting the people's demands."


UNICEF calls for "immediate efforts by all parties" in Syria to spare civilians during unrest

UNITED NATIONS, May 31 (Xinhua) -- With the death toll reportedly increasing in Syria during the unrest which started in March, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday called "for immediate efforts by all parties to spare civilians, particularly children and women, the most vulnerable populations."

Syria rules out abolishment of constitutional Article No. 8

DAMASCUS, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Syria will not abolish Article No. 8 in its constitution, which stipulates the al-Baath party to be " the ruler of state and society," al-Watan daily, citing a senior official, reported on Tuesday.

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