Is Syria next target of reform?

Feb. 1, 2011 at 12:32 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- With reports that Syrian protesters are preparing for mass demonstrations Friday, Washington said the Middle East was ripe for political reform.

A protest suicide in December sparked a revolution in Tunisia that brought down the government of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali after more than 20 years in power. Mass anti-government protests in Egypt appear to be on the verge of ending the reign of President Hosni Mubarak after nearly three decades.

Syrian President Bashar Assad during an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Monday said a new era was dawning in the Middle East.

"Is it going to be a new era toward more chaos or more institutionalization? That is the question," he was quoted as saying. "The end is not clear yet."

P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said during his regular press briefing that Washington has long sought political reform throughout the region.

"The region as a whole, when you look at the political, social, economic well-being of these people, it has underperformed," he said. "And political and economic and social reform is vital to the future of the Middle East and vital to the future of the states of North Africa."

Assad in 2000 took over the presidency from his father Hafez al-Assad, who served as Syrian president since 1971. Damascus since at least the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 has moved closer to the West while keeping its relationship with Iran intact.

Lebanon's iloubnan news Web site reports Tuesday that a Facebook group calling itself The Syrian Revolution 2011 is calling for a so-called Day of Rage for Friday in the spirit of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

Assad during his interview said his country was "stable."

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