BEIRUT: The UN chief demanded Sunday that Syria’s president stop killing his own people and said the "old order" of one-man rule and family dynasties is over in the Middle East.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, delivering the keynote address at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world, said the revolutions of the Arab Spring show people will no longer accept tyranny.
"Today, I say again to President (Bashar) Assad of Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your people," Ban said.
Thousands of people have been killed in the government’s crackdown on a 10-month-old uprising, which has turned increasingly militarized in recent months with a growing risk of civil war.
Syria agreed last month to an Arab League plan that calls for a halt to the crackdown, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, such as tanks, from cities, the release of all political prisoners, and allowing foreign journalists and human rights workers in. About 200 Arab League observers are working in Syria to verify whether the government is abiding by its agreement to end the military crackdown on dissent.
But the presence of the observers has not put a stop to bloodshed and the US and many in the Syrian opposition say killings have accelerated. The UN says about 400 people have been killed in the last three weeks alone, on top of an earlier estimate of more than 5,000 killed since March.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Sunday that five workers were killed when a roadside bomb detonated near the bus they were traveling in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria.
Syria’s state news agency reported that Assad granted a general amnesty for "crimes" committed during the uprising and officials said authorities have begun granting local and foreign media outlets approvals to work in Syria. Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said the level of "incitement and distortion of facts" has doubled since the media was allowed in along with the Arab League observers who started work late last month.
Ban acknowledged challenges facing Arab states in the wake of the uprisings sweeping the Arab world, in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria.
"It is sometimes said that authoritarian regimes, whatever else their faults, at least kept a lid on sectarian conflict. This is a cruel canard," Ban said in Beirut. "Yet it would be equally mistaken to assume that all of the new regimes now emerging will automatically uphold universal human rights," he said.
"Democracy is not easy," he added. "It takes time and effort to build. It does not come into being with one or two elections. Yet there is no going back."
He encouraged Arab countries to usher in real reforms and dialogue, and to respect the role of women and youth.
"The old way, the old order, is crumbling," Ban said. "One-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms that are the birthright of every man, woman and child on this planet — to all of this, the people say: Enough!"
The UN chief also urged an end to Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories.
"Settlements, new and old, are illegal. They work against the emergence of a viable Palestinian state."
On Saturday, the leader of Qatar was quoted as saying that Arab troops should be sent to Syria to stop a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests. Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s comments to CBS’ "60 Minutes," which will be aired Sunday, are the first statements by an Arab leader calling for the deployment of troops inside Syria.
Asked whether he is in favor of Arab nations intervening in Syria, Sheik Hamad said: "For such a situation to stop the killing some troops should go to stop the killing."
Excerpts of the interview were sent to The Associated Press by CBS on Saturday.
Qatar, which once had close relations with Damascus, has been a harsh critic of the crackdown by Assad’s regime. The wealthy and influential Gulf state withdrew its ambassador to Syria in the summer to protest the killings.
Since the Arab Spring began more than a year ago, Qatar has taken an aggressive role, raising its influence in the region. It contributed war planes to the NATO air campaign in Libya, tried to negotiate an exit for Yemen’s protest-battered president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and has taken the lead in Arab countries pressuring Assad.
The Syrian uprising has become more militarized recently, raising the risk of a civil war. Some opposition activists alone with army defectors have increasingly been taking up arms to fight back against government forces.
It was not clear how many prisoners would be affected by Sunday’s pardon issued by Assad.
SANA said the amnesty covers those who have peacefully
demonstrated, those who have carried unlicensed weapons and those who hand over their weapons to authorities before the end of January. It also applies to army deserters who fled military service if they turn themselves in before Jan. 31.
Since the outbreak of the uprising against Assad’s rule in March, Assad has freed 3,952 prisoners, according to SANA.
The opposition claims there are tens of thousands more in Syrian prisons.