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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 00:59 GMT 01:59 UK
Syria cracks down on 'Islamists'
By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Damascus

Damascus mosque
Moderate Islam is still dominant in Syria
Syrian authorities have made a series of arrests ahead of a planned meeting of the ruling Baath party, at which reforms are expected to be announced.

Most of those detained are thought to be Islamists with suspected ties to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which was banned in Syria in 1980.

Local human rights activists say there have been dozens of arrests in the last few weeks. None have been charged.

The Syrian leadership faces growing domestic calls for reform.

'No love lost'

In just over 10 days, a Kurdish cleric has been reported missing, a political activist speaking in the name of the Muslim Brotherhood has been detained and two dissidents with suspected ties to the Islamic movement have been arrested upon their return from exile.

In April, another returning dissident was also detained for a month. He died from heart failure soon after his release.

Recently, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had appeared to be trying to boost his popular support.

Three hundred and twelve imprisoned Kurds were pardoned in April and there were reports of an unofficial amnesty for dissidents in exile.

But all those suspected of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood were detained upon their return to Syria, and not all the Kurds have been released.

There is certainly no love lost between the secular Baath party and the Islamists.

In 1982, a Muslim Brotherhood rebellion in the northern town of Hama was violently crushed and thousands were killed.

More than 20 years later, the Syrian leadership appears eager to show it will not allow any challenge from its long-time rival, the Islamists.


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