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Syria's Assad offers amnesty to political prisoners

Assad's conciliatory gesture is unlikely to halt the momentum of Syria's opposition, which is meeting in Turkey to discuss a transition to democracy.

By Correspondent / May 31, 2011

In this citizen journalism image made on a mobile phone, taken on Friday, May 27, and made available May 29, Syrian anti-regime protesters carry banners during a rally in Talbiseh, in the central province of Homs, Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in a conciliatory gesture to anti-regime protesters, announced Tuesday a general amnesty for all 'crimes' committed before May 31.

Shaam News Network/AP

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Damascus, Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in a clear conciliatory gesture to anti-regime protesters following weeks of brutal suppression by his security forces, announced Tuesday a general amnesty for all “crimes” committed before May 31.

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According to Syrian TV, the amnesty will apply to all political prisoners as well as to the banned Muslim Brotherhood. More than 1,000 people have died and 10,000 people have been arrested in recent weeks as part of a crackdown by the Syrian authorities to stamp out an unprecedented uprising that has shaken Mr. Assad’s 11-year hold on power. There was no immediate word on when the detainees would begin to be released.

“It’s too soon to comment on the political consequences, but right now I am celebrating because it means that 17 of my friends should be released from prison,” says Rami Nakhle, an opposition activist in hiding in Beirut, speaking minutes after the announcement was broadcast. He condemned the decree’s reference to “crimes,” however, saying, “None of my friends committed any crimes.”

The violent crackdown on the protest movement, which has drawn international condemnations and sanctions against the Syrian leadership, suggests that Assad’s gesture alone will be insufficient to bring an abrupt end to the uprising. Indeed, the demands of the street protestors have hardened during the past few weeks from calls for greater freedoms to demands that Assad must go.

300 to 400 opposition members meet in Turkey

Mohammed Said Bkheitan, assistant secretary-general of Syria’s ruling Baath Party, told Syrian TV yesterday that mechanisms for a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition would be announced in the next 48 hours. Buthaina Shaaban, a top adviser to Assad, is believed to have been holding talks in recent weeks with some members of the opposition to explore areas of common ground.

Some 300 to 400 members of the Syrian opposition arrived in Turkey yesterday for a three-day conference to discuss the transition to a democracy and to voice support for the uprising.

The Syrian opposition is a mix of secular liberals, former regime exiles, exiled Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a new generation of young tech-savvy activists who are driving the protest movement inside Syria. As yet, no credible leader or leadership clique has emerged that can appeal across Syria’s complex sectarian and ethnic landscape.

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