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SYRIA: Student reportedly shot, killed; Muslim Brotherhood throws support behind protests

April 11, 2011 | 11:30 am

A student protester was reportedly killed Monday when security forces opened fire to break up an anti-government protest at the University of Damascus, according to unconfirmed media reports.

The incident followed a weekend in which dozens of protesters across the country were reportedly killed in clashes with uniformed security forces and armed groups in civilian dress. Meanwhile, the leader of Syria's banned Muslim Brotherhood told Reuters that his movement was not behind the protests but that it supports their aims.

"The authorities had thought that killings and terror would scare the masses," said Mohammad Riad Shaqfa, who lives in exile in Saudi Arabia. "The effect has been the opposite; repression only fueled the protests."

In the 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood was brutally rooted out of Syria by the late President Hafez Assad, father of the current president, Bashar Assad, It has been outlawed ever since. The support of the Muslim Brotherhood could help bolster the protest movement, but could also leave it vulnerable to accusations of external support or ties to fundamentalist Islamist groups.

A former powerful government figure dismissed such concerns in an interview with a major Arab daily newspaper published Sunday, maintaining the movement is youth-led and will not result in the emergence of an extremist regime should the present government be toppled.

"Syria's true crisis lies in the nature of the regime that has been ruling Syria for four decades now," Abdel Halim Khaddam told the pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsaat.

Khaddam served as vice president of Syria from 1984 to 2005, when he left for Paris, where he has resided in exile since accusing Bashar Assad of playing a role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"This regime took exclusive control of power and decision-making, sidelined the people's role, and used all means and institutions of repression," Khaddam said. "These practices led to the emergence of sectarian tension."

He went on to say that Syrians needed no external military intervention to achieve the goals of the protest movement, but that some regional powers, including Turkey, favor reform over regime change.

"However, the phrase on which everyone agrees is the need to restore freedom, end the mechanisms of the despotic rule, and, in turn, introduce a change," Khaddam said. "We must not forget the state of fear in which the Syrians lived because of the security institutions' terrorist acts of detention, killing and imprisonment. We see today that it was the youths of Syria who brought down the wall of fear."

As for his own key role in the same government and Baath Party that he now accuses of oppression, Khaddam claimed to have presented many reform proposals that were rejected, and said he left Syria "out of concern" for his country.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Video: Footage purportedly showing an anti-government student protest in Damascus on Monday. Credit: YouTube

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