UN chief demands Syria's Assad end violence
BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during the Reform and Transitions to Democracy conference in Beirut January 15, 2012. REUTERS PhotoUN chief Ban Ki-moon on Sunday issued a call to Syria's Bashar al-Assad to stop killing his people, warning the embattled president he was heading for a dead end.
"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 on Arab world democracy in Beirut.
"The winds of change will not cease to blow. The flame ignited in Tunisia will not be dimmed." Organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the two-day conference entitled "Reform and Transitions to Democracy" opened in Beirut Sunday, bringing together a slew of dignitaries, many from countries that suffered under dictatorships.
Among the speakers are Egyptian presidential hopeful and former Arab League chief Amr Mussa and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose country has emerged as a key regional player in the Middle East.
Ban and Davutoglu held talks on the "dangerous trajectory" of the crisis in Syria during a meeting in Lebanon, Ban's spokesman said.
The United Nations estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria as Assad's forces crack down on anti-regime protests now in their tenth month.
Ban also dismissed claims that "crumbling" dictatorships were a guarantor against sectarian conflict in multi-confessional countries and urged new governments to protect the rights of women and religious minorities.
"It is sometimes said that authoritarian regimes, whatever else their faults, at least kept a lid on sectarian conflict," he said. "This is a cruel canard.
"The old way, the old order, is crumbling -- one-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms that are the birthright of every man, woman and child on this planet," Ban added.
"We must work together to promote pluralism and protect the rights of minorities and the vulnerable." Among the themes that will be addressed in the conference which runs to Monday are transitional justice, strengthening civilian control of the armed forces, achieving institutional reform and freedom of the press.
Apart from the opening session and a round-table discussion on Monday, the conference is being held behind closed doors and is not open to the press.
The UN chief, who held talks with top officials and paid tribute to UN peacekeepers stationed in south Lebanon during his visit, was due in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.