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May 17, 2011

Syrian President Concedes 'Mistakes' in Handling Protests

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the authorities have made some mistakes in their handling of anti-government protests since mid-March.

Assad told a group of dignitaries that most of the blame lay with poorly trained members of the security services, according to government TV. But he said Syria had now "overcome the crisis" and it was coming to an end.

The admission comes as new reports of attacks on civilians are taking place in a town near the border with Lebanon.

Video on a Facebook website showed scores of protesters chanting slogans against the government in Syria’s third largest city of Homs Wednesday, heeding a call for a nationwide general strike. Other reports, however, said that shops were open, due to a heavy security presence in the city.

Witnesses in the capital Damascus say that the strike did not appear to have attracted much support in the more visible parts of the city. The French Press Agency reported some unrest in a lower-class neighborhood of Aleppo, along with a large demonstration in Ifrin, north of the city.

Overnight, a campus protest at Aleppo University was broken up by government militiamen and hundreds of students were arrested. It was the second straight night that Aleppo students came out to protest.

A Syrian opposition group on Facebook showed video of several hundred protesters chanting against the government in Damascus’ Kurdish quarter of Rukn al Din, Tuesday.

Syria’s Council of Ministers also met Wednesday to discuss reforms that have been promised by President Assad. Information Minister Adnan Hammoud described plans to reform the judiciary:

He says that the Council of Ministers decided at Wednesday’s meeting to set up a committee to reform the judicial system and to devise a strategy to reform the judiciary at all levels, including re-organizing judicial bodies and increasing the number of judges.

Meanwhile, in Yemen the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-nation group of oil-producing countries, proposed a deal, which aims to end months of unrest and stabilize the region. The parties were expected to sign the agreement Wednesday, officials said. However, given the number of times Saleh has backed out of resigning in recent weeks, some opposition leaders said they remained skeptical. Protesters have been threatening to storm the presidential palace and other government buildings.

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