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SYRIA - Jan 18 - Ex-Vice Pres Khaddam Unlikely Ally For Syrian Opposition.

A call by Syrian ex-Vice Pres Abdel-Halim Khaddam for regime change in Damascus wins scant support from the opposition which remains unconvinced by his apparent conversion. From exile in an opulent Paris home, Khaddam has mounted a media campaign since late December for a popular uprising against Pres Bashar Assad, whom he accuses of ordering former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri's murder. He believes the Syrian people have had their fill of the "oppression and corruption" of the regime, leading him to be branded a "traitor" at home and thrown out of the ruling Baath Party. Khaddam said in an interview he was "in contact with political forces and personalities". But the opposition in Damascus has steered clear of Khaddam, 77, who was long the right-hand man of former Pres Hafez Assad when he ruled the country with an iron fist. Filmmaker Omar Amirallay has accused Khaddam of several crimes and said he would have no place in a democratic Syria. "This man is not popular in Syria, even within the opposition. Some Saudi figures may support him, but France and the US are so far keeping mum", said Syria expert Patrick Seale. A major unknown is whether Khaddam has any backing within the army, the ultra-secretive lever of power in Syria. The exiled head of Syria's banned Muslim Brotherhood said his movement was ready to work with Khaddam although he was not convinced by his embrace of democracy. "For us, getting rid of the dictatorial regime could come in many ways", Ali Sadreddine Bayanouini said in a British newspaper. "During the transition it could happen through people within the regime". Bayanouini, who is based in Britain, said he was willing to assume that Khaddam had "woken up and decided to defect because the regime is leading the country toward a catastrophe". Khaddam himself said he was preparing a government in exile, in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel. "I would not exclude any political group as long as it respects the democratic process", he said. "The fall [of the Assad regime] has begun. I do not think the regime will survive this year", he said. But Seale said Khaddam's declared aims lacked credibility and pointed out that he was regarded in Syria as the man who opposed the "Damascus spring", the brief period of reform in 2000 after Assad took over on his father's death. Khaddam's dramatic break with the regime could simply be sour grapes at being dumped by the regime, he said. The outcome of his bid could depend on the stand taken by France and the US, which have been increasing the heat on Damascus since the Hariri assassination in a Beirut bomb blast in February 2005. The two countries co-sponsored the UN Security Council Resolution which led to Syria's troop pullout from Lebanon last April after a deployment of three decades. France has said it has had no contact with Khaddam who was staying in Paris in a private capacity and refrained from comment on his statements. "It is unlikely that a figure such as Khaddam could take such an initiative without a plan or an understanding with international, regional or even local players", said a former political prisoner in Syria, Yassin Al Hajj Saleh. But Seale said the goal of the US, France and Israel was not to topple Assad but to weaken Syria. Khaddam, who resigned last June, was once one of the most powerful men in Syria and also the most prominent Sunni in a regime dominated by the Alawite minority to which the Assad family belongs. Lebanese Christian leader Michel Aoun on Saturday pointed a finger of blame at Khaddam for a string of assassinations in Lebanon during the 1975-1990 civil war when he was Syria's pointman in the country.
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Title Annotation:Abdel-Halim Khaddam
Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Jan 30, 2005
Previous Article:KUWAIT - Jan 19 - Kuwait Struggling To Recover Sense Of Purpose.
Next Article:SYRIA - Jan 18 - Damascus Releases Opposition Politicians.

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