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Posted at 10:43 AM ET, 02/15/2012

Syria to hold referendum on new constitution — but opposition says Assad still must go

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced Wednesday that a popular vote will be held Feb. 26 on a new constitution.


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivers a speech in Damascus on Tuesday. (AP)
It was “a move that seems unlikely to defuse the country’s rapidly escalating crisis,” The Post’s Liz Sly reports.

The opposition isn’t buying it, pointing out that the constitution might keep Assad in power and would retain sweeping powers for the president. “It’s a non-starter,” Syrian pro-democracy activist Shakeeb al-Jabri, who is based in Beirut, told The Post.

The Syrian National Council, an opposition group in exile of Syria, also said it would not accept this constitution. In an interview with BlogPost, Ausama Monajed, adviser to the secretary general of the council, explains what he thinks can put an end to the assault by security forces on the rebels, which continued in Homs and other cities Wednesday:

Q. Assad has just scheduled a popular vote on a new constitution. Are there any terms under which the council would allow Assad to stay?

Monajed: There are no terms that SNC will accept other than the stepping down of Assad and the removal of all pillars and symbols of the regime.

Q. There are two different opposition groups at this point, the SNC and the Free Syrian Army. Are you two competitive, or collaborating?

Monajed: The SNC is in direct talks with both the leadership of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and with most of the different units across the country. ... Although there are currently open lines of communications, the relationship has yet to be on a collaborative level. The immediate plan of the SNC is to empower the FSA to be able to defend civilians, continue to drain Assad’s military resources, and encourage additional defections within all ranks of the Army. The FSA will be under the political leadership of SNC,

Q. Al-Qaeda recently professed support of Syrian protesters. Is that worrying to you, or to the council?

Monajed:Al-Qaeda in Syria does not exist except through funding and training by the Assad regime. An end to the Syrian regime will minimize any impact for al-Qaeda. Syrians categorically reject the message of al-Qaeda.

Q. What do you think is needed to stop the violence?

Monajed: There are many tracks that help bring an end to violence. A U.N. resolution was one of those tracks but lost its efficacy after the latest Russia-China veto. Establishing a safe zone on the borders of Syria to bring in humanitarian aid and provide safe refuge for defectors is another plausible scenario. A third one is an intervention by Arab troops to supplement Free Syrian Army officers with logistical and weaponry support.

The Syrian people can end the regime of Assad if there is both humanitarian aid and military support to defectors. Imposing tight economic sanctions by neighboring countries has a great impact as well as a complete air and sea blockade.

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By  |  10:43 AM ET, 02/15/2012

Tags:  World, Syria, Free Syrian Army, constitution, uprising

 
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