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Last Updated: Monday, 31 October 2005, 23:16 GMT
Syrians glued to UN debate
By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Damascus

Damascus street scene
Syria's ailing economy would be hard-hit by sanctions
In homes and cafes, at work and in the car, many Syrians tuned in to news channels on the radio and television, waiting anxiously for the outcome of the United Nations Security Council session in New York.

Flicking from one channel to another, Syrians were relieved when it became absolutely clear that sanctions had not been imposed on the whole of the country and its already ailing economy.

But people in Damascus were also shocked to see their country be the focus of a Security Council meeting.

"This is serious, we are headline news, the world is looking at us and it's a bit worrying," said one young Syrian, who gave his name as Anas.

"I still think we have nothing do with the Hariri assassination, but I'm not sure what I think about how the government is dealing with everything, it makes us look bad."

The unanimous adoption of the binding resolution was a surprise to some, who had hoped that Algeria, for example, would vote against it.

'Antagonistic'

Ahead of the vote, Syria's state-controlled newspapers had said the resolution was Washington's way of marginalising Syria and stripping it of its regional role.

It came a day after Syria announced it was setting up its own enquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The move was seen as a way for Damascus to deflect some of the pressure ahead of the UN vote.

"The whole resolution was more antagonistic than expected, even though some positive changes were made," said George Jabbour, a member of parliament who is close to government thinking.

"What happens next depends on (chief UN investigator) Detlev Mehlis, whether he will co-operate or dictate to the Syrian commission."

But one Syrian dissident said the commission would have no impact, because no Syrian judge would have the courage to summon relatives of the Syrian president, who were named in one version of the UN report as having had a possible role in the planning of the Hariri murder.

But critics of the Syrian leadership also said they were relieved that their country had escaped sanctions.

"If there had been sanctions on the country and not just on individuals, then this would have given the Syrian regime a pretext to say that the government and the people were one, which is not the case," said one.

"They would have said people should close ranks with the leadership in the face of international pressure."




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