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Syrian opposition dismisses amnesty, discusses regime change

ANTALYA - Hürriyet Daily News | 6/1/2011 12:00:00 AM | SEVİL KÜÇÜKKOŞUM

Members of the Syrian opposition who have gathered in Antalya have dismissed the general amnesty issued Tuesday by Syrian President al-Assad.

Members of the Syrian opposition who have gathered for a meeting in the Turkish city of Antalya have dismissed the general amnesty for political prisoners issued Tuesday by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Bashar al-Assad just wanted to confuse the people who are attending the conference [in Antalya]. We don’t believe this guy, we don’t trust him. We have not seen any promises from Bashar al-Assad that took place,” Molhem al-Drobi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood delegation at the Antalya meeting, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday.

“He just wants this [opposition] conference to get confused, to get different points of view in order to make this conference a failure,” al-Drobi said.

Participants in the “Change in Syria Conference” received the news of the amnesty while dining together Tuesday night before the formal opening of the meeting. They chanted slogans calling on al-Assad to resign, unfurling the green, white and black Syrian flag that pre-dated Baathist rule, and shouting, “Bashar go. We don’t like you and your Baath Party. Bye-bye, Bashar.”

“They are expressing their views that amnesty is not applicable to them. It means they are not criminals to get an amnesty from Bashar al-Assad. They insist on their request, which is in compliance with the Syrian people in the streets, that al-Assad should leave,” al-Drobi said.

“Al-Assad has arrived at the train station very late. The train has already left. This announcement is too little, too late. It is al-Assad himself who should be granted amnesty because he killed his people,” he added.

“This step is insufficient. We demanded this amnesty many years ago, but [now] it’s too late. We are united under the slogan, ‘People want the fall of the regime and all those who have committed crimes should be brought to account,’” said Abdel Razak Eid, the head of the Damascus Declaration.

Syria’s exiled opposition is meeting in Antalya for a three-day conference that gathers a broad spectrum of opposition figures from various sects and ethnicities. The conference opened Wednesday with the Syrian national anthem and a moment of silence for “the martyrs” killed in bloody crackdowns.

Speeches at the conference were interrupted by participants chanting slogans demanding the resignation of al-Assad. “Bashar, the Hague will be your fate,” they chanted.

The Syrian opposition is collecting evidence to take to the Hague and will make a denunciation of the president, Hamdi Osmanoğlu, a member of Damascus Declaration, told reporters.

Supporters of al-Assad also demonstrated in Antalya on Wednesday, chanting: “You are not freedom fighters, but traitors who have sold themselves. We will never accept that Syria will be Iraq.”

Despite tight security measures at the Falez Hotel, where the opposition meeting is being held, some pro-Assad demonstrators created tension when they sought to enter the conference venue. “God, Syria, Bashar,” they chanted.

Almost 300 dissidents participating in the Antalya conference plan to set up an administrative committee of 31 members, including subgroups to represent the opposition in the international arena, deal with financial issues, organize protests outside Syria and publicize the uprising in the country.

“The first objective of the conference is to draw a road map for the future of Syria,” al-Drobi said. He added that the committee would provide political and logistical support to the people inside Syria by talking to international organizations and other countries “to convince them that what is coming in the near future of Syria is much better than what we have today.”

“The people in Syria are making their revolution and we, in exile, have a role complementing what they are doing,” he added.

Regional countries are “not yet comfortable that the replacement of Bashar al-Assad is good enough,” al-Drobe said.

“They are worried that if al-Assad is replaced, what will end in Syria is their benefits in the region,” he added. “Our role is to complement the Syrian people in the streets by convincing countries that what is coming in the near future as a result of democratic processes is much better than Bashar al-Assad.”

The committee will reflect different sects and ethnicities of Syria, Muhammed Khatib, a member of the executive committee of Damascus Declaration, told the Daily News.

“[Members will include figures] such as Salah Bedrettin, for Kurdish representation, and Molhem al-Drobi as the Sunni representative from the Muslim Brotherhood. We have qualified names: Abdel Razak Eid, Mamoun Homsi, a former member of the Syrian parliament. There will be a nomination for them,” Khatib said.

The Syrian people also demand to change the current constitution, he added.

“Syria had a proper constitution in 1950. When the Baath Party came, they ruined the constitution. There are different opinions now. Some want to turn back to the previous constitution, while some want to draft a similar one that does not give all power to a single body,” Khatib said.

“It’s too early to talk about the constitution. Changing the constitution is the duty of the new parliament,” he added.

Comparing the meeting in Antalya with the one held in Istanbul in April, Khatib said the Antalya conference was “more secular, including activists and individuals more than parties.”

“It represents Syria better. Because we don’t want to scare people in Syria that Islamists are coming,” he said.

“The point of this conference is to put pressure on the international community. It’s the Syrian people on the streets who will kick out this regime,” Omar al-Muqdael, a former journalist who was imprisoned in Syria and then escaped to Turkey, told the Daily News.

[HH] ‘My dream is my country will become like Turkey’

Syria looks at Turkey as its big brother, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood said. “We are jealous of Turkey; it’s a great country. I graduated from [Middle East Technical University] 25 years ago. Turkey has made amazing progress in 25 years, while Syria had made amazing backward steps,” Molhem al-Drobi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood delegation at the Antalya conference, told the Daily News.

“We in Syria look at Turkey as our big brother. The steps of Turkey on the road of democracy are amazing. My dream is my country will become like Turkey,” he added.

Commenting on Turkey’s attitude on the Syrian uprising, al-Drobi said: “There are a lot of benefits for Turkey in Syria, which it should protect. But Turkey is also looking at what’s happening in Syria and is willing to help. Turkey’s relationship with Syrian opposition parties, like in this conference, is very positive.”

Assessing the stance of Ankara with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, he said: “I believe Turkey, as its government today, is treating those movements and parties like any other parties in the world while other countries are treating the Muslim movements unfairly.”

Stressing that al-Assad is a criminal who must be brought to justice and that the Syrian regime has killed “thousands of innocent people,” he said: “The families of the killed have the right to bring Bashar and his people to justice. He is a suspect in giving orders to kill innocent people. The only option for his people is [for him] to meet justice.”

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