Last updated: 15 January, 2012

Assad decrees amnesty over unrest

UN chief Ban Ki-moon Sunday urged Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to stop killing his own people as activists said another 11 civilians died and Damascus announced a general amnesty for crimes committed in the unrest.

“Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end,” Ban said in a keynote address at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world.

“The winds of change will not cease to blow. The flame ignited in Tunisia will not be dimmed,” he added.

Ban’s comments came as Assad announced a general amnesty for crimes committed during the popular unrest that on Sunday entered its eleventh month.

“President Assad issued a decree stipulating a general amnesty for crimes committed during the events between March 15, 2011 and January 15, 2012,” the official SANA news agency reported.

It said the amnesty covered infringements of the law on peaceful demonstrations, the possession of unlawful weapons and army desertion.

The opposition Muslim Brotherhood dismissed the amnesty — the third of its kind since the uprising began — describing it as “neither serious nor credible.”

“The regime is trying to make its unrealistic plans for reconciliation and national dialogue credible, and it is in this context that it is making such announcements, for propaganda purposes,” the group added.

Releasing prisoners is one of the key conditions of an Arab League roadmap approved by Syria in November to end the country’s crisis, which the UN estimates has claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Since November, the regime has made a series of announcements of plans to release in all around 4,000 prisoners “without blood on their hands.”

Syria’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters has brought increased pressure from its former allies.

The emir of Qatar said in an interview with US network CBS that he favoured dispatching Arab troops to Syria to “stop the killing,” a proposal described by former Arab League chief and Egyptian presidential hopeful Amr Mussa as “very important.”

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani’s interview with “60 Minutes” is the first public call by an Arab leader for an Arab military presence in Syria.

The emir’s comments, whose wealthy nation once enjoyed cordial ties with Damascus, come with the Arab League set to review the work of its much-criticised Syria monitoring mission later this month.

“All ideas will be open for discussion,” League chief Nabil al-Arabi told reporters in Manama when asked if Saturday’s meeting will debate Sheikh Hamad’s proposal.

But Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said in an interview that military intervention in Syria would spark an “explosion” across the entire Middle East.

Syrian opposition activists have expressed disappointment at the League mission, with critics saying it has been out-manoeuvred by the government in Damascus.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe decried the “silence” of the UN Security Council on Syria’s deadly crackdown.

“The massacre continues, the silence of the Security Council too. This situation is becoming intolerable,” he said on Sunday in Myanmar.

In October, Russia and China vetoed a Western draft resolution that would have condemned Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Russia later circulated an alternative that would have pointed the finger at both sides.

Juppe’s British counterpart William Hague said on Sunday that there was “no serious prospect” at the moment for a UN no-fly zone in Syria like the one imposed over Libya last year.

In his Beirut speech on Sunday, the UN chief condemned “crumbling” dictatorships for suppressing the media in an effort to contain boiling internal tensions.

Foreign media have largely been banned from covering the Syria crisis, but SANA reported on Sunday that 147 media organisations have since last month been authorised to enter the country for a renewable 10-day period.

Citing Information Minister Adnan Mahmud, the report said 116 “Arab and foreign” media companies have already entered Syria.

Gilles Jacquier of the public France 2 television station was killed on Wednesday in the flashpoint city of Homs.

Ten months after the protests first erupted on March 15, demonstrations continued, with 10,000 people marching in the town of Zabadani in Damascus province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported other protests in the northwestern province of Idlib.

The state SANA news agency said that a roadside blast in Idlib killed six workers and injured 16, blaming the attack on an “armed terrorist group.”

The Britain-based Observatory said 11 civilians were killed by security forces on Sunday — seven men and a woman in Homs, and three men in Qorqos village in the southern province of Quneitra.

It also said 19 soldiers were abducted by deserters who ambushed their convoy in the southern Daraa province.