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The BBC's Jeremy Cooke in Damascas
"The Syrian people want stability above all other things"
 real 28k

The BBC's Brian Hanrahan in Damascus
"His political opponents have been swept away"
 real 28k

Moshe Fogel, Israeli Government spokesman
"We have many question marks in our minds"
 real 28k

Monday, 12 June, 2000, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Thousands mourn Assad
bashar
Pressure is growing to appoint Bashar leader
Thousands of Syrians have been pouring onto the streets of the capital Damascus to mourn their late president, Hafez al-Assad.

Clothed in black and waving patriotic banners, they filed past the hospital where the president's body lies shouting: "Don't say Assad is dead!" and "Our hope is in Bashar".

Bashar al-Assad
All eyes are now on Bashar al-Assad

Pressure has been growing to appoint the president's son and chosen successor, Bashar al-Assad, 34, as the new leader.

However, the late president's banished brother, Rifaat al-Assad, has said he considers himself the legitimate successor.

"Rifaat al-Assad represents the true legitimacy and is ready to take up his responsibilities at any moment," his spokesman Hafez Kheir told the BBC's Arabic service.

Military pledge

Syria's military and intelligence are "fully authorised to take any measure" to prevent Rifaat Assad from entering the country, the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat has reported.

State television has showed senior military officers, led by the defence minister, General Mustafa Tlas, pledging allegiance to Bashar, who has been promoted to take charge of the armed forces.

Their support will be vital in the coming months, when Bashar tackles economic problems and Syria's stalled peace talks with Israel.

Foreign dignitaries have been arriving in Syria for the funeral on Tuesday of President Assad, who died of a heart attack on Saturday aged 69.

Crucial time

On the diplomatic front, the US has said it will not put pressure on Syria to return to peace negotiations with Israel until Damascus has completed the transition of power.


The key thing for us is to make sure the door remains open

US envoy Dennis Ross

Mr Assad's death comes at a crucial time, following Israel's recent pull-out of Lebanon, and ahead of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington.

An official source in Damascus said Bashar had told US President Bill Clinton he would pursue his father's aims of achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Numerous Arab leaders including President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are due to attend Mr Assad's funeral, although there will be relatively few Western dignitaries.

Click here to see the list of guests

After Mr Assad's body leaves Damascus, it will be flown to his home village of Qerdeha, 300km (190 miles) north of the capital.

Crowd in Damascus
A young mourner is overcome with grief

The US special envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross, said Washington would only press for a resumption of peace negotiations when the Syrians felt they could focus on the issue.

He said: "The key thing for us is to make sure the door remains open."

He applauded the "very smooth transition" under way in Damascus.

Mr Clinton had a 10-minute phone conversation with Bashar, passing on condolences to his family.

Referendum

Bashar has been formally nominated for the post of president by the ruling Ba'ath party.

Under Syria's constitution, parliament has to approve the move and then issue a decree to hold a referendum in which Syrians would be asked to accept or reject the nomination.

On Saturday, within hours of the official announcement of President Assad's death, the constitution was amended to remove an age restriction that would have prevented his son coming to power.

Officials in Damascus say parliament will meet in special session on 25 June to issue the referendum decree.

Syria has now begun an official 40-day period of mourning.



Foreign guests attending President Assad's funeral

Heads of State:

Others:

  • Austrian President of the National Assembly Heinz Fischer
  • British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
  • Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja
  • French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine
  • German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
  • Iraqi Vice President Taha Maarouf
  • Japanese Foreign Ministry Yohei Kono
  • Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Hoss
  • North Korean Defence Minister General Kim Il Chol
  • Pakistani Information Minister Javed Jabbar
  • Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat
  • Russia's parliament speaker, Gennady Seleznyov
  • Russia's former prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov
  • South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
  • Spanish Vice-Premier Mariano Rajoy
  • Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss
  • Tunisia's chairman of the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally party, Hamed Karawi
  • US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
  • Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran

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See also:

11 Jun 00 | Middle East
Iran loses a staunch ally
10 Jun 00 | Middle East
Lebanon mourns 'great Arab leader'
11 Jun 00 | Media reports
Media reaction to Assad's death
12 Jun 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Bashar's challenges
12 Jun 00 | Middle East
Living in Assad's Syria
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