Syrian Official Defects as Foes Ignore Assad Pledge to Forgive

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon. Photographer: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian legislator defected and fled, the second high-profile official to change allegiances this month, even as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a pardon for offences since the start the uprising against him.

Syrian parliamentary member Imad Ghallioun last night said he defected, according to an interview with Al Arabiya television. Earlier this month Mahmoud Sleiman Hajj Hamad, head of inspection at the Defense Ministry, also quit the regime.

Assad yesterday issued a pardon for crimes committed during “incidents” since the revolt against him started, state-run television reported. Syria released about 190 prisoners yesterday under the amnesty plan, Xinhua News Agency reported.

“Stop the violence,” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said yesterday at a conference in Beirut, Lebanon. “Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end. The winds of change will not cease to blow.

The revolt started in March amid popular movements that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, while forcing Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to agree to cede power. The UN estimates that more than 5,000 Syrians have died during the violence, in the greatest challenge to Assad’s rule since he took over from his father in 2000.

Time Has Come

‘‘For too long, Arabs stood on the sidelines,” Ban said. “They watched as others threw off tyranny, in Europe, Asia and Africa. They asked: Why not us? Why so little democracy in a part of the world so rich in human potential? Now their time has come.”

Thousands of Syrians took to the streets over the weekend demanding the ouster of Assad. On Jan. 13, about 15,000 people rallied in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where clashes were reported between defectors and the army, according to the U.K.- based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. About 20,000 people demonstrated in the northern province of Idlib, while security forces fired on protesters in the eastern town of Deir al-Zour, the observatory said.

Syrian security forces killed 27 people yesterday, Al Arabiya television reported.

“The old way, the old order, is crumbling,” Ban said. “One-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms that are the birthright of every man, woman and child on this planet. To all of this, the people say: enough! This is cause to celebrate and much more. The spontaneous, homegrown and non-violent movements are a credit to the Arab people.”

Arab League Monitors

Syrian security forces have extended their attacks on demonstrators during the Arab League’s two-week deployment of observers, killing about 400 people in that period, United Nations political chief Lynn Pascoe has told the 15-member Security Council.

Under an agreement with the league, Syria’s government promised to withdraw military and security forces from urban areas, release political prisoners and allow observers into the country to monitor implementation of the accord.

Assad vowed on Jan. 10 to use an “iron fist” to resist what he described as foreign-backed efforts to divide the country.

Arab troops should be sent to Syria to halt violence after observers failed to deter a state crackdown on demonstrations, Qatari Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani told CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

“Some troops should go to stop the killing,” he said in an interview on the program, according to the CBS website.

The league, which imposed sanctions on Syria on Nov. 27, will hold a ministerial meeting to discuss the situation on Jan. 22, the Middle East News Agency said. Russia and China have blocked efforts by the U.S. and the European Union, which also have applied sanctions, for the Security Council to condemn the crackdown.

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