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Syria offers general amnesty

By Zeina Karam,

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday issued a general amnesty for prisoners that includes those deemed to have committed political crimes, as pressure built from a 10-week-old uprising that his government has failed to quell with overwhelming military force.

The opposition swiftly rejected the offer as another ploy by the government to gain time.

Syrian state television said the amnesty covered “all members of political movements,” including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which led an armed uprising against Assad’s father in 1982. Membership in the party is punishable by death.

The amnesty could affect about 10,000 people who Syrian activists say have been rounded up since the anti-government protests broke out in mid-March. The release of political prisoners has been a key demand of the opposition.

The offer came as members of the opposition gathered in Turkey for a conference aimed at overcoming differences and bolstering the protesters who have endured a crackdown that has killed more than 1,000 civilians.

In Washington, the Obama administration expressed doubt about the amnesty offer and demanded that Assad prove he is serious about reform. “He’s said a lot of things in recent weeks and months, but we’ve seen very little concrete action,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

Syria’s Russian allies welcomed the move. “Moscow pins high hopes on the opposition taking as an invitation for talks,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Itar-Tass news agency.

The Syrian state TV report said the amnesty covers “crimes committed before May 31” and halves criminal sentences for felony convictions unless a personal lawsuit is involved.

Assad’s move was the latest in a string of reforms — including lifting a 40-year-old state of emergency and granting citizenship to stateless Kurds in eastern Syria — aimed at addressing protesters’s grievances.

But those moves have been accompanied by a military crackdown to try to quash the most serious challenge to the Assad family’s 40-year rule.

Meanwhile, army troops pounded a town in central Syria in renewed attacks that killed at least one person, activists said. The Local Coordination Committees in Syria said many others were wounded in the attack on Rastan, a few miles north of the central city of Homs, which has been under attack since Sunday.

The death raises to 16 the number of people killed in the three-day crackdown in Homs province.

— Associated Press

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