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January 27, 2013

Russian PM: Delaying Syrian Reforms May be 'Fatal' Error for Assad

by VOA News

Russia has made one of its strongest criticisms of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to date, saying the longtime Russian ally made a potentially "fatal" error by delaying democratic reforms demanded by Syria's opposition. 
 
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev made the comment in an interview with U.S. television network CNN, broadcast Sunday. He said Assad should have acted much faster to reach out to moderate opponents. 
 
Medvedev said he believes the Syrian president's chances of remaining in power are getting smaller and smaller by the day, but he repeated Moscow's position that Syria's fate must be decided by its own people. 
 
Russia has been a longtime supplier of weapons to the ruling Assad family and has vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have condemned him for trying to crush what began as a peaceful pro-democracy uprising. 
 
The rebellion has evolved into civil war in which majority Sunni rebels and Islamist militants have been fighting to end the 12-year rule of Assad, a minority Alawite. 
 
Syrian state media said Sunday the government's top judicial council has suspended legal action against exiled opposition figures, to allow them to return home for a national dialogue proposed by President Assad earlier this month. 
 
However, Syria's exiled opposition coalition has consistently refused to deal with Assad, saying he must leave power before any peace talks can begin. 
 
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos was in Damascus on Sunday to learn more about the suffering caused by the conflict, which she has described as "catastrophic." 
 
Amos made no comments to reporters as she arrived in the Syrian capital and held talks with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. She also visited a school in the Damascus suburb of Bazreh, where some displaced Syrians have been sheltering. 
 
Speaking in Switzerland last week, Amos said Syria is paying the price for the failure of world powers to resolve a civil war that has displaced two million people and turned another 650,000 into refugees abroad. The U.N. is to hold a donor conference in Kuwait on Wednesday, to raise funds for Syria's humanitarian crisis. 
 
In the latest violence, opposition activists said government and rebel forces fought each other around a Damascus railway station on Sunday. They said the fighting in Qadam district led to the closure of a highway that runs to the southern town of Dara'a. There was no independent confirmation of the incident because Syria bars most independent reporting in the country. 
 
The United Nations estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began with pro-democracy protests in March 2011, before evolving into a civil war.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.