Syrian government rejects UN-led committee to alter constitution

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to attendees after a session of the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia Jan 30, 2018.(Reuters)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Syrian government rejects UN-led committee to alter constitution

DAMASCUS: Syria’s government on Tuesday rejected efforts led by the United Nations to form a committee to rewrite Syria’s constitution, the main result of a peace congress among Syrian groups in Russia last month.
“As a state, we are not bound by, nor have any relation with, any committee that is not Syrian formed, led and constituted,” said Ayman Soussan, an assistant to the Syrian Foreign Minister, at a press conference in Damascus.
“We are not bound by anything that is formed by foreign sides, whatever their name or state, we are not bound by it and it is of no concern to us,” he added.
Participants at the Sochi congress, a centerpiece of diplomatic efforts by Damascus’ ally Russia to end the war, agreed on Jan. 30 to set up the constitutional committee in Geneva, and to hold democratic elections in Syria.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said at Sochi that he would decide the criteria for committee members and select about 50 people from government, opposition and independent groups.
The main opposition negotiating group, which boycotted the Sochi meeting, said afterwards that it would cooperate with the formation of a constitutional committee so long as it would be under UN auspices.
Syria’s government said at the time that it welcomed the results of the Sochi meeting, but it made no mention then of the constitutional committee or call for democratic elections.
“De Mistura is a facilitator and not a mediator or a stand-in for other parties,” Soussan said on Tuesday.
Nine rounds of UN-sponsored peace talks, most of them in Geneva, have failed to bring Syria’s warring sides together after seven years of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.
Russia has pushed a parallel diplomatic process that is regarded with suspicion by much of the Syrian opposition.
President Bashar Assad’s government in 2012 announced voters had overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a referendum, conducted amid civil war bloodshed, that was derided as a sham by Assad’s critics at home and abroad.
The new basic law maintained real power in the presidency but dropped a clause that in effect granted Assad’s Baath Party a monopoly on power.


Algeria frees journalist month into one year jail term

Updated 24 January 2019
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Algeria frees journalist month into one year jail term

  • The journalist was arrested on December 9 during a protest in Algiers
  • He was previously arrested on October 22 on allegations of blackmail

ALGIERS: An Algerian court has released a journalist a month after he was sentenced to one year in jail for taking part in an unauthorised protest, his lawyer said.
Adlene Mellah, who heads the news websites Algerie Direct and Dzair Presse, was arrested on December 9 for attending a rally in support of an imprisoned singer.
He was found guilty of unlawful assembly and sentenced to one year in jail on December 25.
On Wednesday a court in Algiers gave him a suspended six-month sentence and released him on appeal, said the lawyer, Noureddine Benissad.
Mellah was first arrested on October 22 in a separate case of alleged blackmail, before being released a month later.
He still faces charges of blackmail, defamation and invasion of privacy in that case which is due go before a court on February 7.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Algeria 136th out of 180 countries on its press freedom index for 2018.