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SYRIA - July 12 - Bashar Assad Wants Better Training For Army.

Officials say Pres-elect Bashar Al Assad has attended the final stage of a military exercise and urged the armed forces to improve their training and upgrade their combat readiness. They say Bashar, who won 97.2% of the votes in a referendum on July 10 to confirm him as new president, also stressed the importance of using scientific methods to develop army capabilities. This is the 1st public engagement by Bashar, since parliament approved the result of the referendum and set July 17 as the date for him to take the oath of office and formally start his 7-year presidential term. (He replaces his father, Hafez Al Assad, who died on June 10. Syria is still technically at war with Israel despite sporadic peace talks which opened in 1991. The talks broke off in early January without making progress on the fate of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel from Syria in 1967. Bashar has said he is ready to resume the negotiations at any time to establish a just and comprehensive peace based on Israel's full withdrawal from the Golan.)

An official says Bashar expressed appreciation for efforts to prepare the exercise and stressed the importance of training to improve the combat readiness of the armed forces. He also stressed the need for continuous work on a scientific basis to "improve the capabilities of our armed forces" on the lines that were promoted by the late leader Hafez Al Assad. (Bashar, a British-trained eye doctor, is due to deliver a speech after taking office in which he will outline his internal and foreign policies including on the peace process with Israel.)

Political sources say Bashar, who has been leading a general economic and administrative reform which began before his father's death, is expected to continue political reforms. They say he is also expected to grant a general amnesty that might include political prisoners after assuming his presidential duties. (The ruling Baath Party gave Bashar its top position, previously held by his father, and elected him as head of the party's regional command during its 9th conference in June.) Bashar is quoted as saying he would pursue his father's policies and work for more political and economic reforms.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Jul 15, 2000
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