Assad again promises Syria reforms as China presses

DAMASCUS- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad plans to create a new constitution, a top ruling party official said on Tuesday, as China joined long-time ally Russia in pressing for prompt reforms in a country riven by a deadly crackdown on anti-regime protesters.
The death toll, already topping 2,900, according to UN calculations, rose further on Tuesday, with three people shot dead in the central city of Homs and another man dying of wounds sustained there a day earlier, activists said.
Mohammed Said Bkheitan, a senior official in the ruling Baath party, said Assad will "decide within two days the creation of a committee to prepare a new constitution."

The committee will complete its work by year end, with the new document requiring a two-thirds approval of the Assad-dominated parliament and then being submitted to a referendum, Bkheitan was quoted by the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper as saying.
China on Tuesday urged Syria to move faster to implement reforms, a week after Beijing and Moscow infuriated the West by blocking a proposed UN Security Council resolution against Assad's deadly crackdown.
"We believe the Syrian government should move faster to honour its reform pledges and swiftly start to push forward the inclusive political process with the broad participation of all parties in Syria," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.
This was the first time that China has veered from its long-standing policy of non-interference in the affairs of Syria, which has been rocked by anti-government protests and violence since mid-March.
Liu's comments came as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Beijing.
On Friday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had told Assad either to reform or resign, while warning the West that Russia will fight outside attempts to oust him.
Medvedev said he wanted to see an end to the crackdown as much as Europe and the United States.
"Russia wants as much as the other countries for Syria to end the bloodshed and demands that the Syrian leadership conduct the necessary reforms," Medvedev said.
"If the Syrian leadership is unable to undertake these reforms, it will have to go," he said in one of his strongest public comments on the crisis.
But he quickly reasserted Russia's earlier position by saying that the best the West could do was support talks and not meddle.
"This is something that has to be decided not by NATO or individual European countries but by the people and the leadership of Syria," Medvedev said.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow and Beijing were ready to propose a new UN resolution on Syria that would condemn violence carried out both by Assad's regime and the opposition.
The Saudi-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Tuesday warned Syria, one of its 57 members, about the consequences of its continued use of force.
Secretary general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said this would "only lead to more violence and bloodshed, thus exacerbating the crisis and making it more complex."
On Sunday, Assad again renewed a pledge of reforms, having made numerous promises since the unrest broke out.
"Syria is taking steps focused on two main fronts -- political reform and the dismantling of armed groups" seeking to destabilise the country, he said.
He said that the "Syrian people had welcomed the reforms but that foreign attacks intensified just as the situation in the country began to make progress."
On the ground, meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three people were shot dead by security forces in Homs on Tuesday.
The Britain-based group said another man died in hospital after having been gravely wounded on Monday.
It said security forces refused to return his body to his family unless they signed a document saying that "armed bands" had killed him.
The regime routinely blames such unidentified groups and "terrorists" of being behind the violence.
Since Monday night, the Observatory added that the Al-Khalidiya district of Homs has been the scene of a "vast security operation" with electricity and telecommunications cut off and 115 arrests.
It added that people had been beaten and insulted in front of their families, and that heavy gunfire had caused injuries and damage to shops.
In Vienna, meanwhile, several hundred people demonstrated calling for an end to Assad's regime.
Around 20 people had stormed into the Syrian embassy overnight on Saturday, demonstrating on the balcony while people outside cheered. Some damage was caused and police detained 11 people.

Wednesday, October 12th 2011

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