United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday to halt violence against a 10-month uprising and said the old order of dynasties and one-man rule in the Arab world was coming to an end.
Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end, Ban told a conference in Lebanon on political reform.
The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria's crackdown on protests which erupted against Assad in March, inspired by uprisings that toppled three Arab leaders last year.
Syria says 2,000 members of the government forces have been killed by armed terrorists.
From the very beginning of the ... revolutions, from Tunisia through Egypt and beyond, I called on leaders to listen to their people, Ban said. Some did, and benefited. Others did not, and today they are reaping the whirlwind.
The conflict in Syria has become one of the bloodiest and enduring confrontations of the Arab Spring. An escalating armed insurgency, driven by army defectors and gunmen, has raised fears of civil war.
The deployment of Arab League monitors in Syria has failed to stem the bloodshed and Assad, facing sanctions, increasing isolation and a crumbling economy, has vowed to crush what he says is a foreign-backed conspiracy.
The 46-year-old president, who inherited power when his father died in 2000, also promised a parliamentary election under a new constitution later this year, and on Sunday declared a general amnesty for crimes committed during the uprising.
OLD ORDER CRUMBLES
The old way, the old order, is crumbling, Ban said.
One-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms... To all of this, the people say: Enough.
But he also said that the transition to democracy in the region would be hard and drawn out, requiring genuine reform, inclusive dialogue, a proper role for women and a solution for millions of young people seeking work.
In the short term, the instability created by the uprisings had exacerbated economic difficulties. Unemployment was rising, along with food and fuel prices, while commerce suffered.
Meanwhile, old elites remain entrenched. The levers of coercion remain in their hands, Ban said. ...We have reached a sober moment.
Where authoritarian rulers had been toppled, there was no guarantee that their successors would uphold human rights.
The new regimes must not elevate certain religious or ethnic communities at the expense of others, he said in apparent reference to fears that newly empowered Sunni Islamist movements could marginalise minorities.
Acknowledging that the United Nations itself needed to update its approach to address the region's problems, Ban said it was supporting change in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.
We are firmly committed to help Arab countries through this transition, by every means, he said.
(Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Ralph Gowling and Matthew Jones)