FACT FILE

Bashar al-Assad, an eyeball physician who gave up medicine field to go into politics, became supreme commander when his dad Hafez al-Assad died in June, 2000. His brother, Basil, the proposed replacement, was wiped out in a car crash in 1994.

Bashar was born on (1965) September 11. He studied ophthalmology at University of Damascus in1988 and arrived inEnglandin 1992 to continue his studies. He was recalled in 1994 to join the army (Syrian) after his blood brother’s death. He was elevated to colonel in 1999. His father had been supreme commander of both the army and the air defense force.

In his first 2 years as supreme commander, Assad released hundreds of political captives his father had imprisoned. This was a clear sign to possible challengers still holding top level political positions from his father’s era, some of whom he removed immediately.

In the year 2001, he called back most of the twenty five thousand strong Syrian soldiers from Lebanon.

However, the old guard overpowered his efforts to ease constraints on free speech and protested his early attempts to grow relations with the West world.

The UK’s PM Tony Blair visited Syria in 2001 in an effort to gain Assad’s support for his political campaign against terrorism, following the 11 September attacks on US soil, but they failed to reach an accord.

In December 2002, Assad and his British-national wife, Asma, made the first official visit to UK by a leader of Syrian top brass.Britaindesired for Assad’s co-operation in a fight against Iraq, and for him to shape Palestinian extremists with connections to Syria. Again, they failed to bridge the differences.

He condemned the US-led war on Iraq in 2003, after originally backing the disarming of Iraq, as the only Arab country on the United Nation’s Security Council. In 2003, as the United States charged Syria of shielding fleeing leaders of Iraq and making chemical arms, Assad seemed to be strengthening his anti-Western position and extending Syria’s “rogue nation” status.


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