Kamercommissie keurt boerkaverbod goed

De Kamercommissie Binnenlandse Zaken keurt unaniem een wetsvoorstel goed dat de dracht van de boerka en de nikab op straat verbiedt. Bij de boerka wordt het hele lichaam verstopt achter een groot doek, ook de ogen, die achter een gaasnetje verwijnen. Bij de nikab is het hele lichaam verstopt op een klein spleetje voor de ogen na.

Het goedgekeurde voorstel bestraft niét het dragen van de boerka en de nikab op zich, maar wel “het dragen van gezichtsversluierende kleding die zover gaat dat betrokkene niet meer kan geïdentificeerd worden”. Daarop komt 7 dagen cel en 137,5 euro boete. Ook de dracht van de bivakmuts op openbare plaatsen wordt dus verboden.

Frankrijk

De gemeenten kunnen ook zelf een reglement uitvaardigen om de boerka te verbieden en daarop een boete van 250 euro zetten, als het parket overtredingen van het boerkaverbod niet wil vervolgen. Momenteel kon dat reeds en naar schatting twintig gemeenten hebben zo’n reglement (o.a. Molenbeek, Antwerpen, Gent, Maaseik…).

Het verbod geldt niet voor allerlei festiviteiten (carnaval, Sinterklaas), en evenmin als de versluierende kleding door andere wetgeving wordt opgelegd (bv. motorhelmen door het verkeersreglement) of als ze wordt opgelegd door een arbeidsreglement (lashelmen bv.).

Momenteel heeft in Europa alleen Frankrijk een algemeen boerkaverbod. Het aantal boerkadraagsters werd vorig jaar in België op 270 geschat.

De voltallige Kamer keurde vorig jaar al een boerkaverbod goed, maar door de val van de regering moet dit werk worden overgedaan. Dat gebeurde zopas.

De groenen vielen scherp uit tegen het voorstel dat volgens hen slachtoffers (de boerkadraagsters) straft en daders (mannen die het dragen van de boerka verplichten) ongemoeid laat. “Wat niet juist is, gezien die mannen als mededader vervolgd kunnen worden”, zo merkte de N-VA op. De groenen menen voorts dat het voorstel niets doet aan de onderdrukking zelf. Groen! vroeg om het voorstel naar de Raad van State te sturen, de partij vroeg ook om hoorzittingen met de mensenrechtenorganisaties te organiseren, maar alle andere partijen wezen dit af. Merkwaardig genoeg keurden de groenen dan toch het boerkaverbod wet mee goed.

(ww.hbvl.be / 30.03.2011)

Libische minister uitgeweken naar Londen

LONDEN – De Libische minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Moussa Koussa heeft zijn functie neergelegd en is uitgeweken naar Londen. Dat heeft de Britse regering woensdag bekendgemaakt. Koussa zou het regime van de Libische leider Muammar Kaddafi niet langer willen vertegenwoordigen wegens de aanvallen van de regeringstroepen op burgers.

De Libische minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Moussa Koussa. EPA
De Libische minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Moussa Koussa. EPA

Koussa geldt als een vertrouweling van Kaddafi en als een van de invloedrijkste mannen uit zijn entourage. Hij wordt onder meer gezien als de architect achter het verzoenende buitenlandse beleid dat Libië tot voor kort voerde. Daardoor kwam het land na jaren van uitsluiting en sancties weer in beeld als gespreks- en handelspartner voor onder meer veel westerse landen.

De bewindsman was maandag al naar buurland Tunesië gereisd. Het Tunesische staatspersbureau TAP meldde woensdagavond dat hij van daaruit naar Londen was gereisd. Dat leidde tot speculaties dat hij zou zijn overgelopen maar een woordvoerder van het Libische regime sprak dat tegen. Koussa zou voor een ”diplomatieke missie” in het buitenland zijn.

Het Britse ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, dat aanvankelijk nog zei geen weet te hebben van Koussa’s reis, liet nadat de bewindsman was aangekomen weten dat hij op eigen gezag naar Londen is gekomen. ”Hij heeft ons verteld dat hij zijn functie neerlegt”, zei een woordvoerder. De Britse regering riep andere lieden uit Kaddafi’s entourage op Koussa’s voorbeeld te volgen.

(www.parool.nl / 30.03.2011)

Rechtbank: licht op groen voor zaak-Wilders

De strafzaak tegen Geert Wilders gaat door. Dat heeft de rechtbank in Amsterdam vandaag beslist. Het Openbaar Ministerie (OM) is volgens de rechtbank ontvankelijk in de vervolging van de PVV-leider en de rechtbank is bevoegd de zaak te behandelen.

Wilders’ advocaat Bram Moszkowicz kreeg van de rechtbank op één onderdeel van zijn bezwaren tegen de rechtszaak gelijk, maar dat bleek niet voldoende om het proces stop te zetten. De rechtbank heeft verder onder meer bepaald dat het OM de film Fitna in zijn geheel op de tenlastelegging mag zetten. Ook de beschuldiging van groepsbelediging wegens ras mag van de rechtbank.

Wat de vergelijking tussen de islam en het fascisme betreft is het OM volgens de rechtbank buiten het vervolgingsbevel van het gerechtshof getreden. In de aanklacht tegen Wilders is de zinsnede ,,Ik heb genoeg van de Koran in Nederland: verbied dat fascistische boek” opgenomen. Voor dat deel van de tenlastelegging verklaarde de rechtbank het OM niet-ontvankelijk.

Het proces wordt op 13 april voortgezet. Dan zal de rechtbank de getuigen Hans Jansen, Tom Schalken en Bertus Hendriks horen. Die verhoren zullen zich toespitsen op het diner waaraan deze drie heren vorig jaar hebben aangezeten.

Diner
Schalken was een van de raadsheren van de kamer van het gerechtshof die de opdracht tot vervolging van Wilders heeft gegeven. Het vermoeden bestaat dat hij tijdens het diner arabist Jansen, kort voordat die als getuige in de zaak-Wilders zou worden gehoord, zou hebben willen beïnvloeden.

Moszkowicz is het er niet mee eens dat de rechtbank de getuigen als eerste wil ondervragen. Daarna is het OM aan de beurt en de verdediging mag pas als laatste vragen stellen. De raadsman had oorspronkelijk om de getuigen gevraagd. Wilders heeft in oktober aangifte tegen Schalken gedaan wegens beïnvloeding van een getuige, maar het OM heeft laten weten geen aanleiding voor vervolging te zien.

De benadeelde partijen zijn blij dat de zaak doorgaat. Advocaat Ties Prakken, die diverse minderhedenorganisaties vertegenwoordigt, vindt dat de rechtbank ,,heeft laten zien dat er heel precies juridisch getoetst wordt”. In mei komen de benadeelde partijen aan het woord. Als alles gaat zoals de rechtbank nu voor ogen heeft, kan de rechtbank in juni uitspraak doen in de zaak-Wilders.

Wilders teleurgesteld
PVV-leider Geert Wilders is teleurgesteld dat de rechtbank in Amsterdam de strafzaak tegen hem wil laten doorgaan, meldt hij via Twitter. Hij is ervan overtuigd dat hij uiteindelijk wordt vrijgesproken.

Ook kondigt hij aan nooit te zullen zwijgen over de islam, waarbij hij verwijst naar een column over de profeet Mohammed die in HP/De Tijd is verschenen. Wilders zegt daarin onder meer dat de profeet aan een hersentumor moet hebben geleden.

(www.ad.nl / 30.03.2011)

‘CIA mag Libische rebellen helpen’

WASHINGTON – De Amerikaanse president Barack Obama heeft een geheim decreet ondertekend dat toestemming verleent voor heimelijke operaties van de veiligheidsdienst CIA ter ondersteuning van de Libische opstandelingen. Dat hebben welingelichte bronnen binnen de Amerikaanse regering woensdag gezegd tegen persbureau Reuters.

Volgens de bronnen heeft Obama het decreet ergens in de afgelopen twee tot drie weken ondertekend. De CIA en het Witte Huis wilden geen commentaar geven.

De Verenigde Staten wikken en wegen nog over mogelijke wapenleveranties aan de Libische opstandelingen. De minister Hillary Clinton (Buitenlandse Zaken) en Robert Gates (Defensie) hebben dat woensdag gezegd tegen leden van het Congres, zei een Republikeinse afgevaardigde die bij de briefing achter gesloten deuren aanwezig was.

(www.parool.nl / 30.03.2011)

De bezetting van Jordanië door Engeland

17 Rabie’ al-Awwal 1338 H, 9 december 1919 – De bezetting van Jordanië door Engeland

Na de eerste wereldoorlog, die voor het Osmaanse Rijk een grote ramp bleek, haalden de christelijke kolonisators hun plannen te voorschijn waarin zij het verdelen van het Osmaanse Rijk bespraken. Zij presenteren ook hun plannen om de joden te helpen om Palestina in te nemen om zodoende een staat op Palestijns grondgebied te stichten. In het jaar 1336 H. (1917) verscheen de Balfour-verklaring en vervolgens werd het Sykes-Picotverdrag – dat in het jaar 1334 H werd opgesteld terwijl de oorlog in volle gang was – openbaar gemaakt. In dit verdrag werd een gedeelte van het rijk van de Osmanen, ash-Shaam en Irak, verdeeld onder Engeland en Frankrijk.

Om de joden te helpen bij het stichten van een eigen staat op Palestijns grondgebied en om hun veiligheid te garanderen en hen te beschermen tegen gevaren van buiten, besloot Engeland om haar kolonies uit te breiden. Zodoende namen zij Jordanië, of wat toen het emiraat van Oost-Jordanië heette, in. Dit gebeurde op 17 Rabie’ al-Awwal 1338 H. Om de mensen te misleiden en om volledige loyaliteit te garanderen, stelde Engeland emir Abdoellaah ibn Sharif Hoessein als gezagvoerder aan, maar wel onder de toezicht van de Engelsen.

(dawah-tv.nl / 30.03.2011)

The New Arab World Order

The most telling aspect of the anti-regime demonstrations that have rocked the Arab world is what they are not about: They are not about the existential plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation; nor are they at least overtly anti-Western or even anti-American. The demonstrators have directed their ire against unemployment, tyranny, and the general lack of dignity and justice in their own societies. This constitutes a sea change in modern Middle Eastern history.

Of course, such was the course of demonstrations against the Shah of Iran in 1978 and 1979, before that revolution was hijacked by Islamists. But in none of these Arab countries is there a charismatic Islamic radical who is the oppositional focal point, like Ayatollah Khomeini was; nor are the various Islamist organizations in the Arab world as theoretical and ideological in their anti-Americanism as was the Shiite clergy. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt functions to a significant extent as a community self-help organization and may not necessarily try to hijack the uprising to the extent as happened in Iran. And even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is not quite so identified with American interests as was the shah. The differences between 2011 in Egypt and 1978 in Iran are more profound than the similarities.

Furthermore, whatever the outcome of these uprisings, it seems clear that Arabs and their new leaders will be focused for years to come on the imperfections within their own societies — perhaps to a greater degree than on injustices committed by Israel and the West abroad. Indeed, in Tunisia the demonstrations were partially spurred by the WikiLeaks cables that showed Washington deeply ambivalent about the regime and not likely to stand with it in a crisis. Politics may thus become normalized in the Arab world, rather than radicalized. Remember: A signal goal of al Qaeda was the toppling of such regimes as Mubarak’s, which oppressed their own people and were seen as toadies to American and Israeli interests. If Mubarak goes, al Qaeda will lose a recruiting argument.

But the dangers to U.S. interests of what comes next in the Arab world are hard to exaggerate. Were demonstrations to spread in a big way to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a catastrophe could be looming. A more enlightened, pro-American regime than the one now in Jordan is hard to imagine. As for the Saudi royal family, it is probably the worst possible form of government for that country except for any other that might credibly replace it. Imagine all that weaponry the United States has sold the Saudis over the decades falling into the hands of Wahhabi radicals. Imagine Yemen were it divided once again into northern and southern parts, or with even weaker central control issuing from the capital city of Sanaa. The United States would be virtually on its own battling al Qaeda there.

Right now all these uprisings look somewhat the same, as they did in Eastern Europe in 1989. But like in Eastern Europe, each country will end up a bit differently, with politics reflecting its particular constituency and state of institutional and educational development. Poland and Hungary had relatively easy paths to capitalism and democracy; Romania and Bulgaria were sunk in abject poverty for years; Albania suffered occasional bouts of anarchy; and Yugoslavia descended into civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people. The Arab world is in some ways more diverse than Eastern Europe, and we should therefore heed the uniqueness of each country’s political and historical situation in calibrating U.S. policy.

President Barack Obama’s administration should stand up for first principles of civil society, nonviolence, and human rights everywhere; and where an autocrat appears on the way out, as happened in Tunisia and might happen in Egypt, the United States can play a constructive role in easing his removal, even as it reaches out to the new political forces at play. American diplomacy in the Arab world is about to become even more intricate. No longer will it be a matter of having one telephone number to call in each country. Henceforth, Washington will have to deal with dozens of political personalities to get the same things done as it used to with just one leader. Democracy equals complexity.

(www.foreignpolicy.com / 30.03.2011)

Wilders: ‘Mohammed had hersentumor’

Volgens Geert Wilders had de profeet Mohammed een hersentumor. Wilders wil een discussie aanzwengelen en de profeet Mohammed “ontmaskeren”. Dit zegt de PVV-leider in een ingezonden stuk in HP/De Tijd.

“Als de tumor in de hypofyse overdruk in de hersenen veroorzaakt, gaan mensen dingen zien en horen die er niet zijn”, aldus Wilders in het weekblad. Hij wil moslims steunen de islam te verlaten. “Een publieke discussie over de ware aard en karakter van Mohammed kan inzicht en steun geven aan moslims wereldwijd om de islam te verlaten.”

Wilders’ beweringen zijn volgens hem niet volledig uit de lucht gegrepen. Hij baseert zich onder andere op de Vlaamse psycholoog Herman Somers. Hij schreef in De andere Mohammed (1992) dat Mohammed vanaf zijn veertigste “leed aan acromegalie, een groeistoornis veroorzaakt door een gezwel in de hypofyse, een klein orgaan dat zich net onder de hersenen bevindt. Als de tumor in de hypofyse overdruk in de hersenen veroorzaakt, gaan mensen dingen zien en horen die er niet zijn.”

“Afvalligen zijn helden en verdienen meer dan ooit de steun van alle vrijheidslievende mensen ter wereld. Partijpolitieke overwegingen mogen daarbij geen enkele rol spelen. Het wordt tijd dat wij deze mensen helpen door Mohammed te ontmaskeren”, voegt Geert Wilders hier aan toe.

(www.spitsnieuws.nl / 30.03.2011)

Islam Hearings Take Different Tone Under Durbin

It was billed as the first-ever congressional hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims. But it played more like an Act II than a premiere.

In many ways, the hearing led by Senate Democrats on Tuesday (March 29) was the dramatic antithesis of one House Republicans held earlier this month on homegrown Islamic radicalism.

Instead of gavel-banging, decorum prevailed. Sobering statistics stood in for emotional anecdotes, and laughter, not sobs, resounded in the committee room. While an audience packed the gallery, the dais was empty save for the six senators who came and went.

But the most striking change was the second hearing’s focus: Crimes committed against American Muslims, not by them.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he convened Tuesday’s hearing because of rising Islamophobia, manifested by Quran burnings, hate speech and restrictions on mosque construction.

And though he did not mention him by name, Durbin twice criticized House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., who convened the earlier hearing on the “radicalization” of American Muslims.

The premise of King’s hearing was that American Muslims do not cooperate with law enforcement probes into violent members of their community.

“We should all agree that it is wrong to blame an entire community for the wrongdoing of a few,” said Durbin. “Guilt by association is not the American way.”

King told Fox News on Monday that Durbin’s hearing “is somehow trying to create the illusion that there’s a violation of civil rights of Muslims in this country. It’s absolutely untrue, and to me it makes no sense.”

Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, wasted little time in rebutting King. “Some have even questioned the premise of today’s hearing,” he said in his opening remarks, “that we should protect the civil rights of American Muslims.”

Durbin also criticized King’s controversial statement that “there are too many mosques in this country.”

“Such inflammatory speech from prominent public figures creates a fertile climate for discrimination,” Durbin said.

Durbin’s star witness was Thomas Perez, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for civil rights. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a “steady stream of violence and discrimination” has targeted Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and South Asians in the United States, he said.

“In each city and town where I have met with leaders of these communities, I have been struck by the sense of fear that pervades their lives — fear of violence, bigotry and hate,” Perez said. “The headwind of intolerance manifests itself in many ways.”

Perez noted that the Justice Department passed a grim milestone last month when it secured a guilty plea from a man who torched a playground at a Texas mosque: He was the 50th defendant charged in a federal criminal case of post-9/11 backlash.

Muslim complaints about workplace discrimination have increased 150 percent since 9/11, Perez said, but he and other witnesses seemed most upset by reports that many Muslim children are harassed at school — called “terrorists” and told to “go home.”

“We have a growing docket of cases involving Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian students,” he said. Muslim students form the largest category of religious discrimination cases handled by the Department of Justice’s education division, Perez added.

“Parents worry, `Will my child be next?”‘ said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, who also testified on Tuesday. “And they worry about the future: Will America be hospitable to other faiths? Will its better angels prevail?”

Durbin drew a raucous laugh from Khera, a former Senate staffer, when he helped her recall the central tenets of Islam during an exchange about Shariah law. Durbin voiced doubt throughout the hearing that the Islamic law system, which offers guidance on subjects like charity and prayer, is a threat to American jurisprudence, as some conservatives warn.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington and an experienced diplomat, said Catholic bishops “stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters in defense of their dignity and rights.” McCarrick demurred, however, when asked by Durbin to defend the rights of Muslims to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, agreed that Muslims’ rights should be protected but insisted that “there are two sides to this story.”

“Efforts to recruit and radicalize young Muslims must be dealt with,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “To the American Muslim community, I will stand with you, but you will have to help your country,” he said. “Get in this fight and protect your young people and your nation from radicalization.”

Sen. Jon Kyle, R-Ariz., warned: “The only way to stop terrorists is to recognize where they are coming from. Political correctness cannot stand in the way of identifying those who would do us harm.”

Muslims who attended the hearing said it was a welcome change from the earlier House session.

“Both needed to be held, both had certain aspects to discuss,” said Sayyid Syeed, who oversees interfaith programs for the Islamic Society of North America. “But the first hearing added to an atmosphere of witch-hunting and mistrust. This one was more positive.”

(www.huffingtonpost.com / 30.03.2011)

Enraged mother stands by daughter, allegedly raped by Gadhafi’s men

Like everyone else, Aisha Ahmad watched the riveting drama unfold in a Tripoli hotel as a desperate woman burst into a dining room filled with journalists, sobbing, screaming, wanting the world to know she had been raped by 15 of Moammar Gadhafi’s militia men.

The arresting images of how swiftly the woman, Eman al-Obeidy, 29, and the journalists were stifled stirred viewers around the world. But perhaps none more so than Ahmad.

This was her daughter. And she was enraged.

Just weeks before, Ahmad might have wept in silence. But now, with war engulfing Libya and its future hanging in the balance, Ahmad feared Gadhafi no more.

“If I were to see his face, I would strangle him,” she told CNN in an interview at her modest home in the eastern coastal city of Tobruk.

This is where she raised her 10 children with her husband, a retired customs agent.

As a little girl, al-Obeidy looked out over the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean, calling on the oil tankers her to carry her away to France. She loved languages, most of all French.

Ahmad recalled her daughter wanting always to be a journalist, but, discouraged by the lack of press freedoms under Gadhafi, she opted instead to study law in Tripoli and make a better life. She was living with her sister when she was, as she claimed, held against her will for two days, beaten and raped.

Ahmad said she believes her daughter’s every word, despite attempts by the Gadhafi regime to discredit her.

The Libyan government first said al-Obeidy was mentally ill and drunk. They called her a prostitute.

Later, it changed its story and said al-Obeidy was sane enough to withstand legal proceedings. Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the men accused of raping al-Obeidy are being investigated, but the suspects, in turn, have filed counter-charges for slander.

The attempt to discredit al-Obeidy as a promiscuous, un-Islamic woman ties into the idea of sexual shaming in a conservative Muslim society where it’s commonly believed that a woman who has been raped has lost her honor, said Mona Eltahawy, a columnist on Arab and Muslim issues.

For a woman in such a society to come forward to claim she has been raped is no small thing.

“No one would do that unless they were raped, and especially in a conservative society,” Eltawhy told CNN.

Al-Obeidy’s act ended up being as significant as the discontented fruit vendor in Tunisia who set himself afire and sparked revolt in the entire region, Eltawhy said. The way al-Obeidy spoke out was unprecedented and she has already been hailed a hero on social networking sites.

Ahmad said she received a call Sunday from a man who offered her a bribe to reject al-Obeidy’s claims and persuade her daughter to change her tale.

Ahmad refused. She stands by her daughter, she said. So does her entire family and tribe.

To show their support, the family held an in-absentia engagement ceremony for al-Obeidy at a mosque in Tobruk Monday. No one here thinks she has lost her honor.

The government said al-Obeidy was freed but she has not been seen publicly since she was dragged away by security men and bundled into a waiting white car outside the Rixos Hotel Saturday.

Ahmad has not heard from her daughter and challenged Gadhafi to air video of her on state television as proof of her well being.

Ahmad said she was also worried about her other daughter. No one has apparently seen her either since Saturday.

A group of lawyers and human rights activists tried to approach al-Obeidy’s sister’s house Monday, but were blocked by security forces. The sister’s mobile phone has apparently been turned off, a source with the opposition in Tripoli told CNN.

Al-Obeidy’s story raced around the world after she stormed into the Rixos Hotel as international journalists were having breakfast Saturday morning. Her face was bruised. So were her legs. She showed reporters blood on her right inner thigh.

Speaking in English, she said had been held against her will for two days and raped by 15 men.

Though her visible injuries appeared to support her claims, CNN could not independently verify al-Obeidy’s story.

“Look at what Gadhafi’s brigades did to me,” she said. “My honor was violated by them.” Al-Obeidy displayed what appeared to be rope burns on her wrists and ankles.

Government officials tried to subdue her, but she persisted. Even a member of the hotel’s kitchen staff drew a knife. “Traitor!” he shouted. Another staffer tried to throw a dark tablecloth over her head.

One government official, who was there to facilitate access for journalists, pulled a pistol from his belt. Others scuffled with reporters and wrestled them to the ground in an attempt to take away their equipment. Some journalists were beaten and kicked. CNN’s camera was confiscated and smashed beyond repair.

As security forces dragged her away, al-Obeidy warned: “If you don’t see me tomorrow, then that’s it.”

Ahmad said she has not been able to stop crying. She hasn’t slept or eaten.

She sees only her daughter’s distress shared so publicly at a pivotal moment of her nation’s history.

(edition.cnn.com / 30.03.2011)

Syria’s Assad sees unrest “plot,” unyielding on emergency law

President Bashar al-Assad defied calls on Wednesday to lift a decades-old emergency law and said Syria was the target of a foreign conspiracy to stir up protests in which more than 60 people have been killed.

Speaking in public for the first time since the start of the unprecedented demonstrations, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, Assad said he supported reform but offered no new commitment to change Syria’s rigid, one-party political system.

“Implementing reforms is not a fad. When it just a reflection of a wave that the region is living, it is destructive,” Assad, making clear he would not concede to pressure from mass protests which toppled other Arab leaders.

Ending emergency law, the main tool for suppressing dissent since it was imposed after the 1963 coup that elevated Assad’s Baath Party to power, has been a central demand of protesters.

They also want political prisoners freed, and to know the fate of tens of thousands who disappeared in the 1980s.

“Syria today is being subjected to a big conspiracy, whose threads extend from countries near and far,” Assad said, without naming any countries.

The protests have presented the gravest challenge to Assad’s 11-year rule in Syria, which has an anti-Israel alliance with Shi’ite Iran and supports militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

Emergency law has been used to stifle political opposition, justify arbitrary arrest and give free rein to a pervasive security apparatus in Syria.

Arbitrary arrests have continued across Syria in large numbers since presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said last week that Assad was considering scrapping the emergency law, according to lawyers and activists.

Assad gave no timetable for other reforms he has mooted, including laws on political parties, media freedoms and fighting corruption. He said the priority was improving living standards in the country of 22 million, where many people struggle with rising prices, low salaries and lack of jobs.

“We can sometimes postpone (dealing with) suffering that emergency law may cause … But we cannot postpone the suffering of a child whose father does not have enough money to treat him,” he said in a speech frequently interrupted by applause.

DEFIANCE

“He focused on defiance. He is defying his people and defying the international community,” leading opposition figure Maamoun al-Homsi told Reuters by telephone from Canada.

Homsi said he had the names of 105 people who had been killed in the last two weeks Syria, and predicted the wave of protests, which abated in the last two days, would continue.

“The uprising won’t stop, because there are rights to be achieved,” he said.

Assad spoke a day after tens of thousands of Syrians joined government-organised rallies across the country in a mass outpouring of loyalty to the 45-year-old leader, who became president in 2000 on the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad.

(www.reuters.com / 30.03.2011)