Anchor Marco Werman talks to Middle East correspondent for The Financial Times, Borzou Daragahi, about the growing anti-government protests and the continuing violence in Syria.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is “The World”. Syrians once again took to the streets today. Syria’s state news agency reported that massive crowds rallied in support of the government, but other news reports say the vast majority of the protestors out today, tens of thousands, were against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and, in spite of the presence of the Arab League monitors, activists say government forces killed some three dozen people. Borzou Daragahi is a Middle East correspondent for The Financial Times. He’s based in Cairo. He says demonstrators jammed city streets all over Syria.
Borzou Daragahi: We know that there was sounds of gunfire in Dumar as well as numerous other cities. There was really horrendous video footage of a protest in Kamishli, which is the Kurdish part of Syria, where the security forces appear to be opening fire on a group of unarmed demonstrators and you could see one of the protestors kind of dropping and being wounded and the other protestors trying to save him, footage of people being hauled away by black-masked Shabiha militiamen from protests. So, you know, quite a dramatic day of political unrest in the country.
Werman: I mean since the Arab League monitors arrived to put a check on the violence, we hear that a hundred and thirty people have been killed. Is it possible the violence has increased since their arrival?
Daragahi: I think it depends on what time frame you’re using, but I would say that the activity and the audacity of the protestors has increased since the arrival of the Arab League monitors, and that may be what is contribution to the uptake, an apparent uptake in the violence.
Werman: Now the man who heads the Arab League observers mission, a general Ahmed al-Dabi from Sudan, he issued a statement from the city of Homs earlier that said that the situation there was “reassuring” and that clashes had not been recorded, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, and also the general was considered a pretty controversial choice to head this mission. I’m wondering if you could tell us more about him.
Daragahi: Yeah, this is a gentleman who allegedly was in charge of creating a violent militia that was accused of perpetrating war crimes against the people of Darfur in Sudan some years ago. This is a guy who’s got a very, very, what some would call, a shady security security background and has been linked to figures who have been accused of gross human rights violations. So there’s some questions about the appropriateness of having a person of this background head a mission like this, but it almost seems like his comments triggered such a firestorm and were in such a stark contrast to the video footage and other witness accounts of what was happening in Homs at the time, that, you know, it has almost had the opposite effect, and the head of the Arab League has said that, you know, no comments attributed to any one member of the Arab League team in Syria are valid until the report is issued and a formal statement about the mission is made.
Werman: By permitting these Arab League observers to enter Syria and monitor the situation, what do you think Assad’s regime was expecting?
Daragahi: I’m not sure if they knew what they were expecting. Perhaps they thought that they would be able to mange the situation. This was not something that the regime wanted. They were sort of forced into a situation where it was either accept the Arab League initiative or be refereed to the UN Security Council, and once Russia appeared to be moving towards sort of sanctioning Syria at the UN Security Council. They probably figured it was better to have the Arab League coming in than to make this a UN Security Council issue.
Werman: By letting the Arab League monitors in, will it pay off any dividence for Bashar al-Assad by making him appear to be open to scrutiny? Is that how it’s working out do you think?
Daragahi: No, it doesn’t seem to be. You know, I think was encapsulated in a video footage that was uploaded to the internet yesterday that showed protestors and orange-vested Arab League monitors kind of running for their lives at a protest in the suburbs of Damascus as gunfire, presumably by the security forces, was erupting nearby. It’s showing the regime as kind of out of control and not able even to muzzle its guns when the Arab League officials are around. I don’t think it’s going to send a good message about the regime.
Werman: The Financial Time’s Borzou Daragahi. Thank you very much indeed.
Daragahi: It’s been a pleasure.
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