Syrian legislator defects to protest crackdown

January 16, 2012 - 1:55 PM
Mideast Syria

A freed Syrian prisoner, left, hugs his relative, right, after being released from Adra Prison on the northeast outskirts of Damascus, Syria, on Monday Jan. 16, 2012. Syria's state news agency SANA said on Sunday President Bashar Assad has granted a general amnesty for crimes committed during the unrest of the past 10-months. SANA said the amnesty issued Sunday covers those who have peacefully demonstrated, those who have carried unlicensed weapons and those who hand over their weapons to authorities before the end of January. (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman)

BEIRUT (AP) — A member of Syria's parliament has left the country to join the opposition against President Bashar Assad's regime, saying the Syrian people are suffering sweeping human rights violations.

Imad Ghalioun, who represents the central city of Homs, told Al-Arabiya TV that the city, which has been one of the most restive in the uprising against Assad's rule since March, is a disaster after months of being a focus of the regime's fierce crackdown.

"The Syrian people are living their worst period," Ghalioun said late Sunday from Egypt.

"The people of Homs are under siege and the city is disaster-stricken," he said. "There is no electricity, piles of garbage fill the streets ... The sounds of shelling all night terrify children."

He added that there are many legislators who support the uprising but have not said so publicly.

Thousands of people have been killed in the government's crackdown on a 10-month-old uprising, which has turned increasingly militarized in recent months with a growing risk of civil war. The U.N. says about 400 people have been killed in the last three weeks, on top of an earlier estimate of more than 5,000 killed since March.

The U.N. chief demanded Sunday that Assad stop killing his own people and said the "old order" of one-man rule and family dynasties is over in the Middle East.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, delivering the keynote address at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world, said the revolutions of the Arab Spring show people will no longer accept tyranny.

"Today, I say again to President (Bashar) Assad of Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your people," Ban said.

Ban has been highly critical of the Assad government's deadly crackdown on civilian protesters since the killings began. Ban's speech was his toughest against the continued survival of authoritarian regimes in the face of the growing international clamor for democracy.

Syria agreed last month to an Arab League plan that calls for a halt to the crackdown, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, such as tanks, from cities, the release of all political prisoners, and allowing foreign journalists and human rights workers in. About 200 Arab League observers are working in Syria to verify whether the government is abiding by its agreement to end the military crackdown on dissent. So far they appear to have made little impact.

The leader of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, was quoted Sunday as saying Arab troops should be sent to Syria to stop the deadly crackdown — the first statements by an Arab leader calling for the deployment of troops inside Syria.

An Arab League official said Monday that Qatar has not made any proposals to the League to send troops. The official cautioned that the only Arab nation that could have potentially sent troops to Syria would have been Egypt, due to the size of its army and its historic ties with Syria, but that this is not likely to happen.

The Egyptian military is tied down in its own nation's turmoil since the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak last February. Egyptian troops are also under increasing pressure to safeguard Egypt's sensitive borders with Israel, the Gaza Strip, Libya and Sudan.

The League official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Observers visited the coastal city of Banias and the restive town of Maaret al-Numan in northern Syria Sunday, where they were met with thousands of anti-Assad protesters chanting for his downfall.

Amateur video posted by activists on the Internet showed the monitors watching and filming from a balcony as a large protest unfolded on the streets below. "Victory for our revolution!" the protesters shouted.

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Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy contributed to this report from Cairo.