Members Of Syria's Baath Party Resign In Protest

There are some signs of cracks in the regime of Syria's President Bashar al Assad. More than 200 members of the ruling Baath Party have resigned to protest the government's violent crackdown on demonstrators. Hundreds of protesters have been killed in recent weeks.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's talk next about Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is still in power, but many of his supporters have abandoned him. More than 200 members of the ruling Baath party have resigned. They are protesting the government's violent crackdown on protesters. Hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, and the Syrian military has reportedly moved into several cities.

We're going to talk about this with NPR's Kelly McEvers, who's monitoring the situation from Beirut.

Kelly, who are these people who resigned, and how significant is their departure?

KELLY McEVERS: These are members of the Baath party from the southern part of Syria, around the city of Daraa, which of course is where the protests first started back in March. But it's important to put these resignations into context. It's thought that there are some two million Baath party members all around Syria.

So you know, 200 people resigning isn't really that much, and these guys were, you know, low ranking figures. According to one guy we spoke to, you know, it's not like they necessarily went to their bosses and tendered their resignation. Rather they just, you know, sent a letter of protest.

INSKEEP: So we may not know precisely who these people are, but in many cases they may be people who simply joined the party because that helped them get a job at some point, and now they're saying they're walking away.

McEVERS: Right.

INSKEEP: Well, what is the Syrian government saying?

McEVERS: Well, the Syrian government is not really saying anything about the resignations. I mean, the Syrian government is saying that, you know, the planned protests for today, which is supposed to be another day of rage, that they're telling people that it's not in their interest to go out and protest.

We're actually getting some reports that the military is going door to door and telling people if you, you know, if you want to see your children again, don't do this.

INSKEEP: That is a pretty direct threat. I'm thinking of Moammar Gadhafi warning people that they'd be going door to door in Benghazi, the rebel capital in Libya, if they ever got there. This is almost a warning that that kind of thing could happen if there's too much protest in Syria.

McEVERS: Yeah. It's important you know, it's important to say it's so hard for us because we cannot be there to cover the story. We're not in Syria. So it's really hard to independently verify this stuff right now. But at this time we do sense a growing sense of fear. We spoke to people in Daraa, you know, asking them, are you planning to protest today, and they're saying things like, are you kidding? You know, they've got snipers on the rooftops shooting at anything that moves right now.

The city is without power and water and phones and medical supplies. People can't even bury their dead. You know, so I don't think they're going to make it out into the streets today.

That said, in other cities, activists are vowing to go out into the streets.

INSKEEP: Do you have any sense as you monitor the situation from outside Syria how organized the opposition is and whether recognizable leaders have begun to emerge?

McEVERS: That is one of the most interesting things here. It's definitely not organized, like the rebel movement, you know, in eastern Libya, or some of the anti-regime groups in Egypt. And analysts are saying it's this lack of cohesion that is exactly why the opposition has managed to survive.

What you have are these younger, sort of anti-regime Syrians organizing protests on Facebook and Twitter, and their older relatives following what's happening on pro-opposition Arabic TV channels like Al-Jazeera.

INSKEEP: So we have this situation here. It is Friday, it is planned to be a day of protest, but obviously you're getting signs of people who are very, very fearful. What is the intent of the protestors today, and what sense do you have of how successful they could be?

McEVERS: The big question is, is how will the government respond to these maybe thousands of protestors who say they're going to take to the streets today. If the government responds violently, then it looks like this vicious cycle will only intensify. Nearly every Syrian we talk to says the same thing. Once blood has been spilled, there's no turning back.

So today maybe there are only a few thousand people in the streets. But you have to wonder how many more are sitting at home saying, hey, you protestors have a point, and how many of those will be willing to act on that feeling should more blood be spilled today.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelly McEvers is in Beirut monitoring the situation in Syria. Kelly, thanks very much.

McEVERS: Thank you.

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