President orders general amnesty

President Bashar al-Assad yesterday issued a general amnesty for “all members of political movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood”, state television reported.

The move should lead to the freeing of all political prisoners who committed crimes before May 31, according to sources quoted by AP.

President Assad’s move was the latest in a series of reforms — including lifting a 48-year state of emergency and granting citizenship to stateless Kurds in eastern Syria — aimed at addressing the grievances of protestors.

The president will give a speech tomorrow to announce the formation of a committee of seven to prepare for a ‘Syrian National Conference’, to find a solution to the crisis, reported Syria News website.

The committee is headed by Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, two members from the Ba’ath Party national leadership, two members of the National Progressive Front and three independent politicians.

A source close to the process said parliamentary elections, which were due to be held in June, will be postponed until further notice.

As part of new laws being drafted which will alter the electoral and parties systems, the government ruled out yesterday amending the controversial Article 8 in the constitution, which says the Ba’ath Party is the “ruler of state and society”, Al-Watan reported.

Attempts at reform have been accompanied by increasing violence which rights groups claim has caused the deaths of over 1,000 civilians and about 10,000 arrests.

Syrian authorities say over 100 troops and security forces have been killed since mid-March in clashes it says are the result of an armed insurrection by Islamists and criminal gangs, sponsored by foreign powers.

International pressure

The US has dismissed the reform pledges, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the government’s position as “less tenable” every day.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd added to foreign condemnation of Syria by extending sanctions against top government officials and suggesting members of the government should face criminal proceedings, Agence France-Presse reported.

The “international community” though remains divided on Syria, as evidenced by rifts during the ongoing G8-summit meeting in France.

Russia has backed calls for besieged Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to go, while blocking other nations’ attempts to use the summit to take Syria to the UN Security Council.

In other news, Foreign and Expatriates Minister Walid al-Moallem met with Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday in Baghdad where they discussed deepening economic ties in the energy sector.

The two sides signed a memo of understanding on establishing a network of oil and gas pipelines to transfer Iraqi crude oil and gas across Syria for export via the Mediterranean, SANA reported.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad met China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi in Beijing.

Jiechi said: "We wish that the stability will return to Syria as soon as possible," stressing that passing any resolution at the UN Security Council at the present time will not serve or help the stability in Syria, according to SANA.

Opposition groups meet in Turkey

Hundreds of leading Syrian opposition figures met in the southern Turkish town of Antalya yesterday in the first day of a three-day conference to formulate a joint strategy, in the second mass gathering of activists since protests began 10 weeks ago.

Delegates in Antalya raised the green, white and black Syrian flag that pre-dated Ba’athist rule, Reuters reported.

The objective is to come out with a road map to liberate Syria from oppression and support the revolution for freedom and democracy,” Moulhem Droubi, a member of the leadership council of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters.

Some analysts have criticised the meeting as not being representative of the ‘Syrian street’.

No one here in Antalya, the Muslim Brotherhood included, claims to be at the forefront of the street,” Droubi said.

Syria Today (Syria)