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Party Backs Modest Reform in Syria

June 10, 2005|From Associated Press

DAMASCUS, Syria — The ruling Baath Party endorsed reforms Thursday that include allowing the existence of some opposition political parties, relaxing a state of emergency and granting more media freedoms.

The recommendations fall short of the extensive changes sought by many in Syria and abroad, and they would have to be approved by the nation's legislature to take effect, a process that could take more than a year. Lawmakers also could modify the reforms.

In addition, the Baath Party said Syria should commit itself to a strategy of peace to "restore occupied lands," a reference to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, official Syrian television reported.

The recommendations were approved by delegates to the Baath Party congress after being adopted by its political committee, one of three panels set up after the congress began Monday.

Party official Ahmed Haj Ali said the committee had "endorsed a relaxation and modification of the emergency law. It will be used only for extreme cases, such as war."

The Baath Party has monopolized power in Syria since 1963. The government has tolerated six small, socialist-oriented parties, including the Communist Party and Socialist Unionist Party, which, along with the Baath Party, operate under the umbrella of the Nationalist Progressive Front.

The only opposition parties in Syria are the Muslim Brotherhood and parties of the Kurdish minority, all of which are illegal.

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