Excerpts from this New York Times article:
Syria Imposing Stronger Curbs On Opposition
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN (NYT) 1245 words
Published: April 5, 2006
DAMASCUS, Syria, April 4 - Just months ago, under intense international pressure to ease its stranglehold on neighboring Lebanon, the Syrian government was talking about ending the ruling Baath Party's grip on Syrian power and paving the way for a multiparty system.
But things have moved in the opposite direction. Syrian officials are aggressively silencing domestic political opposition while accommodating religious conservatives to shore up support across the country.
Security forces have detained human rights workers and political leaders, and in some cases their family members as well. They have barred travel abroad for political conferences and shut down a human rights center financed by the European Union. And the government has delivered a stern message to the national news media demanding that they promote -- not challenge -- the official agenda.
The leadership's actions were described in interviews with top officials as well as dissidents and human rights activists. They reflect at least in part a growing sense of confidence because of shifts in the Middle East in recent months, especially the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections, political paralysis in Lebanon and the intense difficulties facing the United States in trying to stabilize Iraq and stymie Iran's drive toward nuclear power.
The detentions, the press crackdown, the restrictions on travel and the overall effort to crush dissent are also a response to a fragile domestic political climate and concern over a growing opposition movement abroad.
''I may not be keen on early morning arrests, but this regime was being threatened,'' Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari, a Londoneducated technocrat charged with steering Syria's economic overhaul, said in an interview. ''The survival of this regime and the stability of this country was threatened out loud and openly. There were invitations for foreign armies to come and invade Syria. So you could expect sometimes an overreaction, or a reaction, to something that is really happening.''
On Tuesday, Amnesty International condemned the Syrian crackdown and called on Damascus to release ''all of those arrested due to their beliefs.'' Human Rights Watch said it was sending a letter to the government protesting the arrests.