Syria to Allow Political Parties

Posted July 25th, 2011 at 4:15 am (UTC-5)
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The Syrian government has approved a new law allowing the formation of political parties, reversing a ban on opposition groups since the Ba'ath Party took power in 1963.

The state news agency SANA said Monday the bill is part of a political reform program, and stipulates that parties cannot be based on a religious, tribal or regional basis. It also says new parties cannot be a branch of a non-Syrian group, or use violence of any kind.

Protesters calling for an end to President Bashar al-Assad's authoritarian rule have called on the ruling party to include others in the government.

Mr. Assad on Sunday appointed former Damascus-based police brigadier general Samir al-Sheik to run the eastern oil-rich province of Deir al-Zor, two days after the region saw the biggest protests yet against his rule.

Sheik replaces Hussein Arnos, a civilian, who was transferred to the small province of Qunaitera west of Damascus.

Activists say a half-million people took to the streets Friday across Deir al-Zor, a tribal area that borders Iraq's Sunni heartland. Last week, the army surrounded the town of Albu Kamal, on the easternmost edge of the province, after 30 soldiers defected following the killing of four protesters.

The French news agency quoted activists as saying the Syrian army took control of several areas in the city of Homs on Sunday, deploying heavily in the Duar al-Fakhura and al-Nazihin neighborhoods. Homs has been a focal point of the protest movement and the government's crackdown on dissent.

Rights groups say Syrian forces have killed at least 1,600 civilians during the crackdown, while the government has blamed much of the violence on terrorists and Islamists who it says have killed hundreds of security personnel.

It is hard to verify accounts of the unrest in Syria because its government has barred most foreign media from reporting and traveling freely in the country.