Monday, June 12, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Bashar set to succeed Assad

DAMASCUS, June 11 (Reuters) — Syria’s ruling Baath Party nominated President Hafez al-Assad’s son, Bashar, for the job of President during a late-night session, a Syrian political source said today.

He told Reuters that the nomination would be sent to Parliament for official action.

According to the Constitution, if the nomination is approved, Parliament would issue a decree for a referendum in which voters would be asked to accept or reject the nomination.

Officials said Parliament would hold a session on June 25 to approve the nomination of Mr Bashar and issue a decree for the referendum.

Meanwhile, Syrian Vice- President Abdel Halim Khaddam has taken over as caretaker President, a spokesman from his office said today.

Parliament held a special session shortly after the death of President Assad yesterday during which it amended the Constitution to pave the way for Mr Bashar’s appointment, changing the minimum age of the President from 40 to 34, Bashar’s age.

Damascus erupted in shouts, honks and tears as hundreds of bereaved Syrians poured out into the streets to mourn the death of President Hafez Assad.

At least one man fainted, overcome by emotions. Young men, many of them wearing black clothes and black bands on their foreheads, circled the streets leading up to the Presidential Palace and Assad’s private residence.

As the police looked on, the crowd cried “Allahu Akbar” or and shouted slogans expressing support for Bashar Assad, the late leader’s son and heir apparent.

“With our souls, with our blood, we will protect you, oh Bashar,” the crowd chanted.

The government declared a 40-day mourning period. Syria’s red-black-and-white flags were lowered to half-staff in the mourning. Loudspeakers at government buildings, hotels and other establishments resounded with verses from the Koran, Islam’s holy book, in the traditional Islamic way of mourning.

Assad, who died at the age of 69, is the only leader the younger generation has ever known, having ruled Syria for 30 years.

AFP adds: Syrian President Hafez al-Assad will be buried on Tuesday in his home village of Gerdaha, 300 km north of Damascus, an official source has said. The announcement came yesterday.

Meanwhile, condolence messages have started pouring in from all over the world. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan remembered Syrian President Hafez Assad as a statesman of “great authority” and called his death “a great loss,” Mr Annan’s spokesman has said.

“The passing of President Assad is a great loss for the people of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Arab world, and the region as a whole,” spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Saturday in a statement.

“The Secretary-General sends his heartfelt condolences to the family of President Assad and to the people of Syria.”

US President Bill Clinton mourned the passing of President Assad on Sunday and speaking from Northfield, Mirresota, said despite his differences with the late leader, he “always respected him.”

“I am saddened by the news of President Assad’s death and want to offer my condolences to his family and the Syrian people,” Mr Clinton said.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will represent the USA at the funeral for Syrian President Assad, the White House has announced.

President Clinton will not travel to Syria for the ceremony but will send his top diplomat, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters on Saturday, travelling in Minnesota with the President.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described Syria’s late President Assad as a “very nationalistic man” who joined the Middle East peace process for practical reasons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his most sincere and profound condolences to the Syrian nation for the loss of President Assad, who died on Saturday, news agencies reported from Moscow.

“Assad was a friend to Russia, who did much for Russo-Syrian relations,” Mr Putin said in a late-night Kremlin statement reported by ITAR-TASS.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair paid tribute to President Assad and urged all involved in the Middle East peace process to redouble their efforts to find a settlement, according to a Reuters report from London.

“President Assad was a figure of stability in the Middle East and much respected in the Arab world and beyond,” said Mr Blair, in a statement released by his Downing Street office.Back

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