Syria opposition insists on regime change
Syrian opposition groups insisted on regime change as they met in Turkey on Wednesday, a day after President Bashar al-Assad decreed an amnesty for political prisoners following two months of bloodshed.
The three-day gathering -- titled "Conference for Change in Syria" -- opened with the Syrian national anthem and a minute of silence for "the martyrs" killed in bloody crackdowns on street protests simmering in Syria since March.
"The Syrian people are calling for the fall of the regime," said Melhem al-Durubi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood delegation in the Turkish Mediterranean resort of Antalya.
"This announcement is too little too late... He should simply leave," Durubi said, adding that Assad "should be tried for his crimes."
"We demanded this amnesty several years ago," said Abdel Razak Eid, an activist from the Damascus Declaration, a reformist group launched in 2005 to demand democratic change, "but it's late in coming."
Speakers at the conference condemned "massacres" of civilians and urged Assad's departure.
"The regime is not legitimate and has no longer a ground to stay on," said Dugmush Dia al-Din, a 25-year-old student who came from Damascus for the meeting and has been detained twice for participating in the revolt.
International response to Tuesday's decree was tepid at best.
Former colonial ruler France said Damascus authorities needed to take a much bolder change of direction after at least 1,000 deaths in the crackdown on generally unarmed demonstrators.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe demanded "more ambitious and bolder" action from Syria. "I fear that it might already be too late," he told France Culture radio.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Assad had still not done enough.
"He has not called an end to the violence against his own people, and he has not engaged seriously in any kind of reform efforts," Clinton said.
Turkey, while not dismissing the decree outright, also asked for deeper change.
"I hope this is the first step of a comprehensive reform," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. "This step is important, like a signal rocket."
The official Syrian Arab News Agency said the amnesty for political prisoners would extend to the Muslim Brotherhood, membership of which has been punishable by death in Syria since it led a bloody uprising against the rule of the current president's father Hafez al-Assad in the 1980s.
"President Assad has by decree issued an amnesty on all (political) crimes committed before May 31, 2011," SANA reported.
"The amnesty applies to all political prisoners as well as to the Muslim Brotherhood."
Syrian state television meanwhile said an investigation had been launched into the death of a 13-year-old boy who was allegedly tortured and killed by security forces in Daraa, south of Damascus.
State television said the interior ministry had appointed a commission to investigate the death of Hamza al-Khatib, 13, after pro-democracy activists set up a Facebook page and called for fresh protests in his memory.
The Facebook site, Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force behind the anti-government protests, said Hamza's body was returned to his family last week following his disappearance after a demonstration in Daraa on April 29.
"There were a few bullets in his body used as a way of torture rather than to kill him with. Clear signs of severe physical abuse appeared on the body such as marks done with hands, sticks and shoes. Hamza’s penis was also cut off," the Facebook site said.
The US-based Human Rights Watch meanwhile released a report detailing a raft of abuses in the Daraa region.
HRW said its report showed abuses in the flashpoint region were "not only systematic but implemented as part of a state policy" and likely to "qualify as crimes against humanity."
The amnesty announcement came shortly after a senior official in Syria's ruling Baath party reportedly said that a committee for national dialogue would be set up within 48 hours.
But the opposition has repeatedly insisted that dialogue can only take place once the violence ends, political prisoners are freed and reforms adopted.