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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 20:49 GMT 21:49 UK
Profile: Rifaat al-Assad
posters and soldiers shadow
The Assad family has witnessed blood fueds
It comes as no surprise that the first person to break rank over the succession of Bashar al-Assad is the late president's younger brother, Rifaat.

Black sheep of the family
Born in 1937
Led defence brigades for his brother
Coup attempt in 1983
Sacked as vice-president in 1998
"What is happening in Syria is a real farce and an unconstitutional piece of theatre which is a real violation of the law and the constitution," Rifaat Assad's spokesman said on Monday.

Mr Assad was formally stripped of his position as vice-president in 1998.

But he has lived in exile in Europe for more than 15 years after a coup attempt in the 1980s when he tried to take over from his brother Hafez, who was then recovering from a heart attack.

Rifaat al-Assad
Rifaat al-Assad: 15 year feud with his brother
He is a ruthless and charismatic member of a family which is no stranger to internal power struggles and blood letting.

But the extent of his brutality was on show when there was a Sunni Muslim uprising in the Syrian city of Hama in 1982.

Rifaat led the Alawite-dominated defence brigades which were sent in to quell the unrest. They razed a large section of the city to the ground and killed between 10,000 and 20,000 of its inhabitants.

Lap of luxury

Since his failed bid for power in 1983, Mr Assad has lived a luxurious life between France and southern Spain, funded by a business empire which until recently still thrived in Syria.

However, in October 1999, there were reports of clashes at a port facility near the Mediterranean town of Latakia which the authorities said the president's brother was using for illegal commerce.

Hama
The historic city of Hama has felt the dread hand of Rifaat al-Assad
Part of Rifaat's fortune has been poured into a flagging satellite TV channel, Arabic News Network, which is run by his son Sumar.

The station is based in London, far away from control by Syria's draconian censorship regime, but until the president's death had remained relatively loyal to Damascus.

An exception occurred during the October 1999, when ANN reported that tanks backed by air and navy forces attacked a complex owned by Rifaat, killing hundreds of people.

Now the rift between different branches of the Assad family has come out into the open, Monday's "address to the nation by Rifaat al-Assad" on the London-based station is likely to be the first of many.

See also:

11 Jun 00 | Middle East
10 Jun 00 | Middle East
11 Jun 00 | Media reports
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