Syria needs reforms

Updated: 2011-11-01 08:05

(China Daily)

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The day after dozens were killed, in one of the deadliest single-day tolls since protests erupted in Syria more than seven months ago, the United Nations (UN) and the Arab League issued separate condemnations of the violence on Saturday.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced the international concern over the ongoing crisis, when he said, "The calls of the Syrian people for change must be answered with far-reaching reforms, not repression and violence."

Syria is clearly in a state of internal political crisis. According to the UN, at least 3,000 people have lost their lives in the country since the unrest began in mid-March.

It is no surprise that the NATO powers, inspired by their successful military intervention in Libya, shifted focus on Syria.

However, given the geopolitical sensitivity of Syria as the nerve center of the Middle East and the weak position of the Syrian opposition, the Western powers have so far restricted themselves to sanctions aimed at Syrian President Bashar Assad and the ruling elite and have refrained from any military intervention, such as the NATO action in Libya. Yet, international pressure upon Syria for political reform is increasingly building up.

Echoing the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement that Assad has "lost legitimacy", the European Union (EU) widened sanctions against Assad and the Syrian state. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that fall of the Assad government is "unavoidable", while the British government is urging Assad to step down.

Early last month the EU welcomed the formation of the opposition Syrian National Council, a coalition of seven Syrian opposition factions, as "a positive step forward".

Although Russia and China jointly vetoed a Western-backed draft resolution at the UN Security Council - because the resolution criticizing the Syrian government for allegedly suppressing protests would have opened the door to possible military action - the stance of noninterference in Syria's internal affairs does not come unconditionally.

China called on the Middle East on Thursday to halt all forms of violence in Syria and take all necessary measures to prevent bloodshed. "The people's legitimate demands should be respected as a precondition for pushing the reform process," Wu Sike, China's special envoy to the Middle East, said in a statement in Damascus last week.

In the meantime, the Arab League has proposed an initiative to end the crisis in Syria and embark on dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.

Despite his warning to the Western powers that any military intervention in Syria would cause an "earthquake" in the Middle East, Assad should recognize that it is matter of urgency for the Syrian government to reach a political agreement with the opposition on needed reforms.

(China Daily 11/01/2011 page8)