Assad's offer on Tuesday came as members of the Syrian opposition gathered in Turkey for a conference aimed at overcoming differences and bolstering the protesters who have endured a bloody crackdown that has killed more than 1,000 civilians. The opposition was quick to reject it, defining it as just another plot by the regime to gain time. “This shows weakness on the part of the regime,” Mohammad Abdullah, a Washington-based Syrian dissident who was attending the conference in Antalya, Turkey, said early Wednesday morning.
Abdullah, whose father, Ali Abdullah, is a well-known political prisoner, said the move would have been a good one had it come in the first week of the uprising, not after hundreds of protesters have been killed. “The opposition now will accept nothing less than regime change,” he said.
Khalaf Ali Khalaf, an organizer of the conference, said the amnesty, which has numerous exceptions, “comes too late to appease the street, like vague and halfhearted promises for reform that preceded it.”
The meeting of Syria's exiled opposition in Turkey, which opened on Tuesday, is the first official gathering of activists since an uprising against Baathist rule erupted 10 weeks ago. The conference in the Mediterranean coastal city brings together a broad spectrum of opposition figures driven abroad over the last three decades, from Islamists crushed in the 1980s to Christians escaping repression.
Scores of delegates chanted slogans demanding the removal of Assad on Tuesday. “The objective is to come out with a road map to liberate Syria from oppression and support the revolution for freedom and democracy,” said Moulhem Droubi, a member of the leadership council of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He said the conference would not form a transitional council similar to that set up by Libyan rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi, because of the dangers of naming dissidents who are active in Syria and have sent representatives to the meeting. Turkey, which shares an 800 kilometer border with Syria, has become increasingly critical of Assad as the bloody crackdown against demonstrators has worn on.
Unlike the West, Ankara has not taken action against Assad, who removed restrictions on Turkish imports in the last three years, resulting in billions of dollars of Turkish goods flowing to Syria. The two countries have also cooperated on security.
Delegates in Antalya raised the green, white and black Syrian flag that pre-dated Baathist rule. The Baath Party came to power in a 1963 coup, ushering in an era of repression during which tens of thousands of Syrians were killed, disappeared or were driven into exile around the world. However, delegates said they had formed early a consensus that outside intervention to topple Assad was not favored, because it would give the authorities an excuse to kill more protesters.