Syrian Activists Meet in Damascus, Seek to End Violence

Posted June 27th, 2011 at 8:25 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

More than 150 Syrian intellectuals and activists, including some of the country's most prominent opposition figures, met in Damascus Monday to discuss how to end months of violent upheaval and initiate a peaceful transition to democratic rule.

The gathering was the first since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule began in March.

In a final statement, participants pledged to support the goal of a democratic state that guarantees freedom and rights to all members of society. It called on authorities to end military assaults on cities and towns, withdraw security forces from the streets, release thousands of political prisoners held without trial and allow the rights of protest and assembly.

Some opposition figures refused to attend the conference, saying any sanctioned meeting could be used by the government to “bestow legitimacy” on itself. Syrian authorities were informed of the event and did not block it.

The United States described the meeting as a “significant event.”

Also Monday, Mr. Assad met with visiting U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich and discussed what official media called the “legitimate demands” of his people.

Meanwhile, Syria's state-run news agency SANA said the government will hold talks with the opposition on July 10 to set the framework for a national dialogue. There was no report of who would comprise the opposition delegation.

In a televised speech last week, Mr. Assad offered a national dialogue that would begin to review new laws on parliamentary elections, the media and possible reforms to Syria's constitution.

Activists immediately dismissed his promises, saying they failed to meet the demands of protesters who have rallied for democratic changes and defied a fierce military crackdown.

Demonstrators calling for Mr. Assad's ouster have been under assault by pro-government forces for more than 100 days.

More than 12,000 Syrians have fled into Turkey and hundreds more into Lebanon to escape the violence in their homeland.

Rights groups say more than 1,400 people have been killed in the violence, most of them unarmed protesters.