BEIRUT – Critics of Syria’s authoritarian regime, at a rare gathering in Damascus, called Monday for a peaceful transition to democracy and an end to the Assad family’s 40-year-old monopoly on power. Otherwise, they said, Syria’s current chaos might destroy the country.
Almost 200 opposition figures and intellectuals gathered to produce “a vision about how to end tyranny,” said an organizer.
While unprecedented in its size, the public meeting at a Damascus hotel – the first since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s rule began in March – had the government’s approval, leading to criticism that the regime was trying to take on a veneer of openness while continuing its bloody crackdown on dissent. Many regime opponents stayed away for that reason.
Still, the dissident gathering, at which the government was unrepresented, would have been unthinkable a few months ago in tightly controlled Syria. It came as the regime was reeling under the pressure of a relentless protest movement, and authorities were clearly anxious to show they were making concessions.
In a final communique, participants declared their support for the “popular uprising seeking a peaceful transition to a democratic, civil and pluralistic state” and called for an immediate end to the security crackdown and the army’s withdrawal from towns and villages.
Migrants kidnapped in Mexico
MEXICO CITY – Masked gunmen stormed a train in southeastern Mexico and kidnapped at least 80 Central American migrants presumably bound for the United States, a priest who runs a migrant shelter said Monday.
The Rev. Alejandro Solalinde said migrants who escaped told him that the men intercepted the train as it headed northward through Veracruz state Friday. The gunmen then allegedly forced migrants to climb down from atop the cars and stuffed some into at least three waiting SUVs.
Solalinde suspects the Zetas drug cartel was involved.