Friday, June 17, 2011

Syria shoots dead 18 as regime sacrifices Rami Makhlouf to win back public

Syrian forces shot dead at least 18 protesters yesterday as one of its most reviled figures gave up his business empire in an attempt to assuage public anger.

Security personnel used live fire to disperse protests in the country's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, as demonstrators refused to be mollified by news that President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law had been forced to surrender control of much of his business empire.

Rami Makhlouf, who is thought to be Syria's richest man, announced he was giving much of his 40 per cent stake in Syriatel, the country's largest mobile telephone operator, to "the poor" and devoting himself to charity.

The tycoon is one of 13 powerful Syrians close to the regime that has been sanctioned by the EU, a punishment that reflects his role as one of the suspected architects of the brutal crackdown of the protests, during which more than 1,300 people are believed to have been killed.

"I will not allow myself to be a burden on Syria, its people and president from now on," Mr Makhlouf, 41, said during a press conference. "I will not engage in any projects that can generate personal gain and I will devote myself to charity and humanitarian work."

The move appeared to be an attempt by the regime to remove one of the principal targets of popular discontent. (read more)