Syrian opposition leader hits out at regime crackdown


The dissident leader of the largest of Syria’s powerful tribes hit out at the Damascus authorities on Saturday, telling AFP in Nicosia they had a final opportunity to avoid more bloodshed

“There is still a last-ditch opportunity to avoid the bloodshed that the regime persists in causing,” Al-Bakkara chief Nawaf al-Bashir said by telephone from the city of Deir el-Zor in eastern Syria.

“The regime needs to launch a national dialogue with the people, particularly the revolutionary youth, with a defined agenda and time frame,” added Bashir, who says he has been banned from travelling abroad for the past 16 years because of his opposition to the government.

“We believe in peaceful political change,” he said, adding that a national dialogue should lead to “legislation allowing the free formation of political parties and media outlets, and the scrapping of Article II of the constitution” which enshrines the monopoly of power by the ruling Baath party.

Bashir mocked state media claims that the scores of deaths in weeks of clashes between anti-government protesters and the security forces were the work of unidentified “armed men” and rooftop snipers.

“The people firing on the protesters are regime thugs and security service henchmen,” he said. “They take us for slaves — for four decades now they have subjected us to indiscriminate affronts and killings.”

Security forces killed 27 people in the town of Daraa and surrounding villages south of Damascus on Friday as they cracked down on the latest in a wave of protests in the area, human rights activists said.

Three demonstrators were also reported killed in the central industrial town of Homs, and four more in the Damascus suburbs, as the government of President Bashar al-Assad faced the biggest challenge to his 11 years in power.

Bashir was a key supporter of the so-called Damascus Declaration which opposition leaders issued in 2005 to press for reform. He says he has been interrogated by the security services more than 75 times. ahramonline