Assad Wraps Up Landmark Visit to France
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad left France on Wednesday after a state visit dogged by protests about his country's human rights record.
However, analysts speaking to Abu Dhabi satellite channel described the official visit as “successful.” The Syrian press also hailed the trip as a success.
The president, who was in Paris to promote Franco-Syrian economic ties and discuss the Middle East peace process, ended the trip on a positive note, attempting to draw the sting from criticism by giving a well-known rights activist permission to leave Syria.
Assad told a news conference before leaving Paris that journalist Nizar Nayyouf, who is severely ill after spending nine years in jail, was free to leave and seek medical attention.
"He is no longer in prison, he is not forbidden to travel, he has permission to leave the country if wants to," he said.
The journalist confirmed the president’s statement, telling AFP he would seek medical treatment in France or Germany. He thanked Assad for intervening to secure the permission.
Nayyouf, 40, became one of the world's best known prisoners of conscience during a jail term imposed for criticizing Syrian human rights abuses.
He was freed in May, but the writer and his supporters claimed he still faced police harassment.
Last week, Nayyouf claimed he was kidnapped by secret police and held for 30 hours, but Damascus denied the allegation, accusing him of staging the incident to generate negative publicity ahead of Assad's visit.
Syrian businessmen based in France were not won over by Assad's overtures, however, noting on condition of anonymity that trade could only take off under a "new government,” according to the agency.
Patrick Seal, an expert on Syrian affairs, asked: "Can we reform the economy without touching on politics?"
Assad on Tuesday sought to clear up an alleged "misunderstanding" over remarks he made to Pope John Paul II that have been widely regarded as anti-Semitic, said reports.
Assad told lawmakers at the National Assembly that his comments were not aimed at Jews in general but only at Israel, the Associated Press quoted him as saying.
Assad last month told Pope John Paul II that the Israelis "tried to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Muhammad."
He charged that the media distorted his comments, said AP – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)