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SYRIA CRACKDOWN: On Feb. 13, the Monitor's Cameron Barr reported on some new signs of freedom in Syria, like the salon groups that meet in the home of businessman and member of parliament Riad Seif. Some 300 people attended the discussion on the economy, human rights, and politics the night Barr was there.

But Syria's government has since cracked down on the gatherings. The Associated Press reported that the government this week said such meetings can no longer be held without official permits and that their agendas also must be submitted for approval. Mr. Seif held his meeting Wednesday night anyway, but only 50 people turned up.


ENEMY NO. 1: Cameron Barr says the most striking thing about his first trip to Iraq was being in a place where the US is the present enemy. "I've been in places where America is the former enemy - like Vietnam - but never a place where both the government and the people feel besieged, today, by the US," he says.

As an American citizen representing an American newspaper, it was unavoidable that some of his contacts would see him as a surrogate for the US and lecture him sternly on the evils of American policy toward Iraq. "The best thing to do in that situation is never to defend the policy," he adds. "Probe the weaknesses in their argument, but don't make yourself a de facto diplomat."

THE COUNTDOWN: Having walked past sidewalk huts in Bombay and other parts of India, Scott Baldauf (below, with his wife Kashmira in Delhi) was expecting similar deprivation in the slums north of Delhi. But to his amazement, the pathways between homes were cleaner than many sidewalks in Delhi's downtown .

"The huts were tiny, but the concrete floors were spotless," Scott says. "All of them had electricity, and some even had cable television. Some residents had converted their homes into neighborhood vegetable stands and bodegas. Others had turned their homes into miniature factories, where women and children earned a living making colorful party decorations."

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