crowning achievement—-he retained power for 30 years in a region where even brutal dictators like him fall far short of such political longevity. In so doing, Assad—who died Saturday at 69 after a lengthy illness—brought stability to a nation that plays a linchpin role in any Middle East peace settlement and that had been plagued by coups before his bloodless putsch in 1970.
The inevitable struggle to succeed Assad will be closely watched to see whether the elusive goal of an overall Arab-Israeli peace will become easier or even more challenging. One of Assad’s sons, Bashar, 34, is the leading contender to succeed his father, but it is unclear whether he commands sufficient support in the powerful military. A British-trained eye doctor, Bashar was his father’s chosen heir and recently led an anti-corruption drive that targeted high-ranking officials.
Despite his three decades in power, Hafez Assad failed to realize two longstanding dreams. He aimed to be considered the leader of the Arab world and, closer to home, wanted to oversee the return of the Golan Heights, which Syria lost to Israel in the 1967 war when Assad was defence minister.
While Israel has recendy agreed in principle to return most of the disputed land, peace talks between the two archenemies have stalled over a small but strategically significant section that the Jewish state insists on retaining. Assad had been equally insistent on reclaiming all of Syria’s pre-1967 territory.
Once condemned by the United States as a leading supporter of terrorism, Assad ingratiated himself to the West by providing a few thousand troops to the 1991 Gulf War effort against Iraq. After the war, billions of dollars of western aid poured into Syria to prop up its faltering economy.
Known as “The Lion of Damascus,” the reclusive Assad retained power through a Soviet-style regime, complete with a powerful secret police. He triumphed over several coup attempts and in 1982 put down an uprising by levelling the city of Hama, killing at least 10,000 people.
Still, western leaders were gracious in their tributes to Syria’s strongman. “We had our differences, but I always respected him,” said President Bill Clinton. Added Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who met with him in Damascus in April: “I was struck by his commitment to the search for a just, durable and comprehensive peace. ”
Mugabe’s ‘final revolution’
Calling it the “final phase of our revolution,” Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said white farmers would be killed if they resisted blacks taking over their land. Led by veterans of the country’s war for independence, squatters have so far occupied about 1,500 farms. Mugabe said the remaining 850 white-owned farms would be seized without compensation.
A deadly blast in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan police extended emergency rule for a month and detained 19 men after an alleged Tamil Tiger’s suicide bomb killed 23 people in a suburb of Colombo. Among the dead was the country’s Industrial Development Minister C. V Gooneratne. The bombing came on the country’s first-ever War Heroes Day.
The Greek terrorist group November 17, responsible for 22 political slayings in the past 25 years, claimed responsibility for yet another after British defence attaché Brig. Stephen Saunders was assassinated in Athens. The killing came at an awkward time for Greece, which is trying to counter its image of political instability before hosting the 2004 Summer Olympic Games.
Bntain leaves Sierra Leone
Britain reassured Sierra Leone that it was not abandoning the tiny West African country even as 800 British marines prepared to leave. The special troops arrived in early May after rebels captured 500 UN peacekeepers. The UN soldiers have since been released and 12,000 peacekeepers are now in control of many parts of the country, although civil war fighting continues.
A huge Congo death toll
More than 1.7 million people have died in the 22-month civil war raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a study by the International Rescue Committee, a New York City-based humanitarian group, since the war started in August, 1998, thousands of people have died every day from war-related causes, including hunger and disease.
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