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Sumar al-Assad
"This is his cause and this is why he is fighting"
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The BBC's Jeremy Bowen
"A city turned out to see him off"
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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Rifaat: No leadership ambition
Bashar al-Assad recieves Madeleine Albright at his father's funeral
Bashar al-Assad made his mark with Mrs Albright on Tuesday
The exiled brother of the late Syrian president, Hafez al-Assad, is not putting himself forward as a rival presidential candidate, his son has told the BBC.

Sumar al-Assad said his father Rifaat remained opposed to the succession of President Assad's own son, Bashar, and wanted Syrians to be able to choose their own leaders.


The Syrian people have to be free to decide their leadership

Sumar al-Assad

Analysts say fears for the smooth succession of Bashar al-Assad, who was being groomed for leadership by his autocratic father, have dominated the aftermath of President Assad's death.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine has become the first western political figure publicly to cast doubt on Bashar's long-term ability to rule Syria, according to French Government spokesman Daniel Vaillant.

"The son of the late president will very probably come to power, the question raised is whether he will be able to exercise it in a lasting way," Mr Vaillant quoted Mr Vedrine as saying.

Mr Vedrine also questioned whether "desirable developments" would be possible under Bashar and whether he had the authority to resume peace talks with Israel, according to the spokesman.

Mr Vedrine's comments come after he attended Tuesday's funeral, in the company of President Jacques Chirac, the only European head of state present.

However, the French foreign ministry later denied the comments attributed to Mr Vedrine.

Illegitimate

The mixed signals from Paris come as Rifaat al-Assad's campaign to portray himself as the rightful heir appears to have been toned down.

Rifaat al-Assad
Rifaat lives in exile in Europe

"His ambition is to give back freedom and democracy to the people of Syria.

"It is not his ambition to become president," Rifaat's son told the BBC's Newsnight programme.

Sumar al-Assad, whose UK-based satellite TV station ANN broadcast attacks on the succession as the president was being buried on Tuesday, said the problem was with the legitimacy of Syria's Ba'ath party leaders.

He said the leadership was illegitimate because there had been no party congress to confirm it since its term ended in 1989.

Emerging leader

The Syrian authorities have remained silent on challenge led by the rival branch of the Assad family as power is consolidated in the hands of Bashar.

On Wednesday the 34-year-old former doctor, who has little experience of politics, received very few visitors at the family home in the remote mountain village of Qardaha.

Vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam, nominally in charge after Mr Assad's death on Saturday, was the only major political figure among village neighbours paying traditional condolence calls.

Mourners at Assad's funeral
President's funeral was a moving and dignified occasion

Bashar played a prominent role at his father's funeral, receiving dozens of Arab leaders and foreign dignitaries.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians lined the route of the funeral cortege in Damascus and on the road to Qardaha, many chanting slogans of support for Bashar.

The Ba'ath party has designated him as his father's successor and decrees have been issued to promote him to the rank of general and commander of the country's armed forces.

The party is due to meet on Saturday to discuss the nomination and there is expected to be a national referendum to confirm it in July.

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See also:

13 Jun 00 | Middle East
Assad laid to rest
12 Jun 00 | Middle East
Profile: Rifaat al-Assad
13 Jun 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Assad's funeral
14 Jun 00 | Media reports
Bashar seeks 'honourable peace'
12 Jun 00 | Middle East
Pinning hopes on Bashar
13 Jun 00 | Middle East
Family feud on the airwaves
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