Mideast state repression set to continue in 2012: Amnesty

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NICOSIA: Violence deployed by Middle East governments to suppress dissent last year is set to continue in 2012, with some states clinging to power "at almost any cost," Amnesty International warned in a report on Monday.

"The protest movements across the region, led in many cases by young people and with women playing central roles, have proved astonishingly resilient in the face of sometimes staggering repression," Amnesty’s interim Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther said in a statement.

"But persistent attempts by states to offer cosmetic changes, to push back against gains made by protesters or to simply brutalize their populations into submission betray the fact that for many governments, regime survival remains their aim," he added.

Mass uprisings sparked by the self-immolation of a Tunisian vegetable vendor that swept the Arab world last year led to the downfall of presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Libya’s Moamar Qaddafi.

They continue to rock the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and paved the way for the removal of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

But in its 80-page report, Amnesty slammed the rights abuses of Egypt’s interim military leaders who replaced Mubarak, calling them worse in some respects than under the former president and warning of possible attempts to further restrict freedom of expression.

"The army and security forces have violently suppressed protests, resulting in at least 84 deaths between October and December 2011. Torture in detention has continued, while more civilians have been tried before military courts in one year than under 30 years of Mubarak’s rule.

The report also criticized Libya’s interim authorities for failing to control the armed brigades that helped oust Qaddafi or bring to trial an estimated 7,000 detainees being held by the brigades in makeshift centers.

The London-based rights watchdog highlighted the policies of governments elsewhere, notably in Syria, that remained "grimly determined" to cling to power, "in some cases at any cost in human lives and dignity."

Amnesty accused the Syrian army and intelligences services of "a pattern of killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity, in a vain attempt to terrify protesters and opponents into silence and submission."

It said that more than 200 cases of people dying in custody had been reported in Syria by the end of the year, over 40 times the country’s recent annual average.

Despite the inconsistent response of international powers and regional bodies like the UN Security Council and Arab League towards the pro-democracy protests across the Middle East, Luther said the lack of foreign intervention was also a reason for optimism.

"What has been striking about the last year has been that —with some exceptions —change has largely been achieved through the efforts of local people coming onto the streets," he said.

"The refusal of ordinary people across the region to be deterred from their struggle for dignity and justice is what gives us hope for 2012," he added.

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