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Syria Holds Hundreds as Cabinet Approves Plan for New Parties

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syrian security forces arrested hundreds of anti-government protesters as the Cabinet approved a draft law that would allow new political parties to exist alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s ruling Baath party. Photographer: Dave Caulkin/AFP/Getty Images

July 25 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian security forces arrested hundreds of anti-government protesters as the Cabinet approved a draft law that would allow new political parties to exist alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s ruling Baath party.

Women, children and two well-known boxers were among those detained as people took to the streets yesterday for evening rallies in parts of the central city of Homs and the suburbs of Damascus, Ammar Qurabi, of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, said in a telephone interview today. At least 300 people were arrested in the capital’s Rukneddine district alone, he said.

The proposed multiparty law endorsed late yesterday by the Cabinet is “a waste of time,” Qurabi said. “As long as there is a system where you have a constitution that says the Baath party is the main party that leads society and the state, then this law is pointless,” he said. The Baath party has dominated Syrian politics since 1963 and banned opposition groups.

At least 19 protesters were killed by security forces over the weekend, Qurabi said. The protests in Syria to demand Assad’s ouster are part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa this year that unseated the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. Assad has blamed the dissent in Syria on a foreign conspiracy, while saying demonstrators’ demands “have merit” and that changes are needed.

Terms of Proposal

The draft approved yesterday lays out the governing principles and terms related to the setting up of parties and their functioning, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said. Any new party must be founded with a “commitment to the provisions of the constitution, democratic principles, the rule of law and a respect for freedom and basic rights,” SANA said, adding that a party must “not be based on religious or tribal lines, or discriminate due to ethnicity, gender or race.”

The bill is part of a series of measures taken by Assad that have failed to quell the protests, which began in mid-March and have been the greatest challenge to his rule since he inherited power 11 years ago from his father.

The latest killings increased the death toll to 1,936 since the unrest began, according to Qurabi. His group is joined by that of Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, in compiling the names of those killed, injured or detained. Thousands of Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Protests are likely to gain momentum during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in August, and authorities probably will try to force an end to the unrest before then, Merhi and Qurabi said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon, at mderhally@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Louis Meixler at lmeixler@bloomberg.net.

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