Syria 'grants uprising amnesty'


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has granted a general amnesty for crimes committed since the outbreak of a 10-month uprising against his rule, the state news agency SANA reported today.

It said the amnesty would cover "crimes committed in the context of the events that occurred from March 15, 2011, until January 15, 2012". It gave no further details.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Syrian President today to halt violence and said the "old order" of dynasties and one-man rule in the Arab world was coming to an 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," Mr Ban told a conference in Lebanon on political reform.

Arab League foreign ministers will meet next Sunday to discuss the future of an Arab monitoring mission sent last month to check if Syria is respecting an Arab peace plan.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria's crackdown on protests which erupted against Dr Assad in March, inspired by uprisings that toppled three Arab leaders last year.

Syria says 2,000 members of the government forces have been killed by "armed terrorists".

"From the very beginning of the ... revolutions, from Tunisia through Egypt and beyond, I called on leaders to listen to their people," Mr Ban said. "Some did, and benefited. Others did not, and today they are reaping the whirlwind."

"One-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms... To all of this, the people say: Enough."

The Arab League said today it has not received any official request or suggestion that it send Arab troops to Syria.

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, said yesterday that Arab troops may have to step in to halt the bloodshed in Syria since the start of protests against President Bashar al-Assad in March.

"There is no official suggestion to send Arab troops to Syria at the current time ... There has been no Arab or a non-Arab agreement on a military intervention in Syria for the time being," a representative to the League said.

There is little appetite in the West for any Libya-style intervention in Syria, although France has talked of a need to set up zones to protect civilians there.

It was far from clear if Arab countries would be willing to beef up the team of civilian monitors currently in Syria, let alone send in troops without broader international support.

It was also not clear if Qatar envisaged the troops playing a peace enforcement or other role.

The conflict in Syria has become one of the bloodiest and enduring confrontations of the "Arab Spring". An escalating armed insurgency, driven by army defectors and gunmen, has raised fears of civil war.

The deployment of Arab League monitors in Syria has failed to stem the bloodshed and Assad, facing sanctions, increasing isolation and a crumbling economy, has vowed to crush what he says is a foreign-backed conspiracy.

Mr Ban warned that the transition to democracy in the region would be hard and drawn out, requiring genuine reform, inclusive dialogue, a proper role for women and a solution for millions of young people seeking work.

In the short term, the instability created by the uprisings had exacerbated economic difficulties. Unemployment was rising, along with food and fuel prices, while commerce suffered.

"Meanwhile, old elites remain entrenched. The levers of coercion remain in their hands," Ban said. "...We have reached a sober moment".

Where authoritarian rulers had been toppled, there was no guarantee that their successors would uphold human rights.

"The new regimes must not elevate certain religious or ethnic communities at the expense of others," he said in apparent reference to fears that newly empowered Sunni Islamist movements could marginalise minorities.

Acknowledging that the United Nations itself needed to "update its approach" to address the region's problems, Ban said it was supporting change in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.

"We are firmly committed to help Arab countries through this transition, by every means," he said.