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Protests will topple Syria's Assad, Khaddam says

CAIRO (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Syria will eventually lead to his overthrow, former vice president Abdelhalim Khaddam said in remarks published on Thursday.

Khaddam, who fled to Paris in 2005 after nearly 20 years as vice president, also told Egypt’s Al-Shorouk newspaper he expected the Syrian army to stop supporting Assad and end “the sectarian strife he and his family are instigating.”

“Assad has exposed himself completely before the people, through the crimes committed by his security apparatus,” Khaddam said. “This has created a deep feeling among Syrians that the continuation of the regime would be a catastrophe.”

“The depth of the rift between the regime and the majority of the people... will lead to the collapse of a regime desperately struggling to survive,” he said.

Rights groups say more than 200 people have been killed in the protests that began in March and that follow similar uprisings against autocratic rulers throughout the Middle East.

Assad has tried to soften Syrians’ hostility to him by ordering his cabinet to end 48 years of emergency rule, but opposition figures predict he will continue to try to crush the protesters.

Khaddam, who resigned and quit the Baath Party in 2005, has said Assad’s promises of reform do not go far enough and called for the creation of a new constitution based on a parliamentary democracy.

Opposition figures distrust Khaddam because of his decades of work in the Baath Party, and the massive wealth he accumulated while in office.

Khaddam denied reports that he was involved in smuggling weapons to Assad’s opponents in Banias, Khaddam’s home town where mass protests have taken place.

He also criticized Assad, and his younger brother Maher, for maintaining a sectarian regime in which the Alawite minority, a branch of Shi’a Islam, rules a Sunni Muslim majority.

“All the security forces are from one sect (Alawite)... Power is concentrated within the ruling family,” he said.