Assad purges party as Blair calls for a Syrian no-fly zone
AN emboldened President Bashar al-Assad sidelined his deputy and cleared out the leadership of Syria's ruling Baath Party, as Tony Blair urged the West to consider a no-fly zone to protect the rebels.
The reshuffle at the top of the Baath Party – all 16 members of its political high command were dropped to make way for new blood – came after a series of battlefield gains by the regime's forces that have made Mr Assad feel more secure.
Mr Assad retained his own position as secretary-general of the party but axed Farouk al-Sharaa, the vice-president.
Speculation about Mr Sharaa's loyalty to Mr Assad and his potential role as interim leader in a peace process has raged since the start of the uprising in 2011.
With the Syrian rebels gradually losing territory gained from the regime a year ago, Mr Blair claimed that Mr Assad was taking advantage of foreign allies, including Russia and Iran, to re-establish his grip on power. "I think we should at least consider, and consider actively, a no-fly zone in Syria," Mr Blair told BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme.
"A refusal to engage ... as you see from what's happening in Syria at the moment, where, after all, as a proportion of the population there's now been more people that have died in Syria in a civil war that shows absolutely no sign of ending than in the entirety of Iraq since 2003. Inaction is also a policy and a decision with consequence." (© Daily Telegraph, London)