Syrian Foreign Minister: Opposition Should Join 'Dialogue' : The Two-Way If those demanding reform choose to ignore President Bashar Assad's call for a "national dialogue," reforms will be made without them, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem says.
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Syrian Foreign Minister: Opposition Should Join 'Dialogue'

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Syrian Foreign Minister: Opposition Should Join 'Dialogue'

Syrian Foreign Minister: Opposition Should Join 'Dialogue'

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

And we begin this hour with news of continued violence in Syria as the government appeals to the opposition to come to the table and talk. Government troops and security police shot and killed at least 10 anti-government protesters in the central city of Hama.

Hama, with around 800,000 inhabitants, has had more protesters in the streets than any other place in the country, and the city appears to have slipped out of government control.

Today, in an interview with NPR, foreign minister Walid Moallem made that appeal for dialogue. And NPR's Deborah Amos is in Damascus, and she joins us now.

Deb, what did the foreign minister have to say?

DEBORAH AMOS: He was delivering a message today that the protests must end. Syrians have to come to the table and change the constitution, hammer out an election law, a new media law, create a multiparty democracy.

Now, the opposition, the older generation of critics and the organizers of the street protests have rejected any dialogue with the government until the violence stops.

When I asked the foreign minister who he's going to talk to, he appealed to the protesters to come to the table, and here's what he said.

BLOCK: People have two options: either to continue demonstration under the slogan of falling of the regime, which will not happen, or to come to discuss the issues.

NORRIS: Now, in listening to that, Deb, it doesn't really answer the question, if the Syrian army continues to shoot the protesters, how does the Syrian government expect to start that dialogue the foreign minister is calling for?

AMOS: Moallem was trying to make the point that this is a historic opportunity to shape a democracy in Syria. The problem is there is another reality on the ground. Today, in the city of Hama, security police swept into that city to carry out mass arrests. It comes after one of the largest anti-government protests in the country on Friday, a peaceful protest, no violence at all, and it was in the absence of any security presence.

This is how Foreign Minister Moallem discounted the reports of crackdowns in that city. Here's what he said.

BLOCK: You spoke about army enter the city of Hama. They did not enter. Last Friday, many thousands of demonstrators were in Hama, and nobody shoot them. Peaceful demonstrations are peaceful demonstration.

AMOS: Now, this is how the foreign minister characterized what happened in Hama. We reached a resident of Hama, and here is how he characterized what happened today. This is Omar al-Habal(ph). He's a 57-year-old civil engineer. He's a longtime resident of Hama. He says that he joined the anti-government movement in the city. He was out on the streets today, and here's what he said about the army's movement in his city.

BLOCK: They came from outside to the edge of the city, and they started killing people and shooting them, and this will continue for four hours continuous shooting.

NORRIS: And, again, that was the 57-year-old civil engineer, Deb, that you interviewed. Now, there are videos on the Web from Hama that also seem to show Hama residents setting up makeshift barricades and people running from heavy gunfire. The French government condemned the violence in Hama today, and yet, Syria's foreign minister says that peaceful protests were permitted. There seems to be some disconnect.

AMOS: Moallem did say that he was in favor of allowing peaceful protests, in his opinion. Other parts of the Syrian government took measures for a crackdown on this rebellious city. It may be that the demonstrations in Hama were so large with people occupying the town square that it created too potent of a symbol.

In Cairo, the protests in Tahrir Square eventually ousted a president. So in Syria, they are putting forward another model, a different model from Cairo, but they are going to have to find credible partners to talk to.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Deborah Amos reporting from Damascus.

Deb, thank you very much.

AMOS: Thank you.

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