Politics|

Obama Tells Assad to Leave Syria

Official President Barack Obama PortraitOn Thursday, US President Barack Obama and his allies in Europe – Britain, Germany and France – demanded that the 40 years of brutal family dictatorship in Syria be ended with the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. The coordinated message was accompanied with a recommendation from the United Nations (UN) that Syria be referred to the International Criminal Court to be investigated for atrocities. The US also imposed harsher new sanctions on the Syrian government, freezing all its assets in the US and targeting its profitable energy market.

The unrest in Syria has been going on since the middle of March, when anti-government demonstrations broke out in Daraa, a southern province, and began to spread throughout the country. Authorities have blamed the turmoil on foreign conspiracy and armed groups. They have also insisted that they will track down the gunmen who have damaged public and private properties, as well as threatened people. Rights groups claim that nearly 2,000 people have been killed by Assad’s forces since the unrest started.

The US Embassy in Syria was attacked last month after US Ambassador Robert Ford made a controversial visit to Hama, a central city. The ambassador’s residence in Damascus was also attacked by loyalists. Since then, the relationship between the two nations has been worsening, with both Obama and State Secretary Hillary Clinton saying Assad has lost his legitimacy as a leader. Then on Wednesday, security forces and activists killed 18 people throughout the nation. Assad assured UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before the international action that police and military operations had halted. However, the military assault has only escalated on civilians since the beginning of Ramadan, which is observed all month. Thousands have also been detained.

This is the first time that Obama has explicitly told Assad to step down. He says the foreign leader’s call for reform and dialogue have been proven empty. International leaders have consistently said Assad has to lead a democratic transition or resign. He hasn’t led, and the time has come for him to step aside for the sake of the people, he added.

Along with the unprecedented sanctions issued by the US on Thursday, Obama added the prohibition of all US persons from being involved in any transaction with the Syrian government. The executive order also bans imports to the US from Syria’s petroleum or related products. Despite the sanctions against Syria’s petroleum market, experts don’t thing they will have much of an impact compared to the symbolism it has. This is because the nation’s economy has minimal exposure to the US, and it’s not a major producer of energy.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a joint statement that Assad needs to leave power in the unity of his people and the greater interest of the country. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton joined the condemnation as well.

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