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Saturday, 8 September, 2001, 00:16 GMT 01:16 UK
Syrian old guard fights back
Demonstration in Paris - including freed human rights campaigner Nizar Nayouf - for the release of Syrian lawyer Riad al-Turk
Protests for Syrian freedom - but in Paris not Damascus
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

An official Syrian newspaper has accused a member of parliament, Riad Seif, of denigrating the state and its institutions.

The campaign of denigration by Mr Seif and his peers interferes with the national dialogue and atmosphere of freedom that is spreading through Syria

Al-Thawra Newspaper
Mr Seif, a leading opposition activist, was arrested on Thursday after hosting a discussion group at which speakers had called for radical political reform.

No official charges against Mr Seif have been made public.

But the newspaper Al-Thawra has accused him of waging a campaign of denigration directed at the state.

"It is normal that those who undertake or contribute to campaigns of incitement against the state and its institutions ... find themselves confronted by the laws in force," the paper continued.

Opposition to reform

Ever since Bashar al-Assad became Syria's president last year, on the death of his father, his talk of reform has prompted writers, intellectuals and political figures to test the limits of free speech.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
It is unclear whether Bashar's desire for reform will be realised

Mr Seif was active in the setting up of discussion groups last year at which there were outspoken calls for far-reaching political and economic reforms.

These groups were closed down in March. But on Wednesday Mr Seif went ahead and hosted an unauthorised meeting at his home in the capital Damascus.

He is now the second MP to be arrested in the last few weeks.

Many observers see the crackdown on free speech as being the work of the country's political old guard - the group of men who were powerful under the last president, and who remain firmly opposed to any significant political reform.

See also:

03 Sep 01 | Middle East
Syria pressed over dissident's arrest
17 Jul 01 | Middle East
Bashar: A year of cautious reform
04 Jan 01 | Middle East
Syria gets first non-party newspaper
26 Jul 00 | Middle East
Bashar frees political prisoners
17 Jul 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Syria's economic challenge
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Syria
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