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May 27, 2017

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One year on, civil war looms large above a disquiet Syria

BEIRUT -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's rule is bound to end, but the country risks partition or civil war after a year of mass protests and deadly repression, analysts say.

"If you asked us one year ago if Bashar al-Assad could be on his way out, many people would have said no way. Today, I believe the regime is losing, it is running out of time," said Salman Shaikh of the Brookings Institute.

"A year on, even though this is proving to be a very tough nut to crack, it still shows that the uprising is alive and well and will likely lead to the end of this regime," said the Doha-based analyst.

The uprising that has shaken one of the Middle East's most autocratic regimes erupted on March 15, 2011, when a group of youths no older than 14 scrawled graffiti on the walls of their school in the southern Daraa province.

"The people demand the fall of the regime," they daubed on the walls, echoing protesters in Tunisia and Egypt, where mass demonstrations drove from power veteran strongmen despised by their people.

The Syrian authorities responded with brutality, arresting the youths and throwing them in jail, triggering protests by relatives which were repressed with deadly force.

At the same time two small protests were held in the iconic Damascus Hamidiyeh and Marja markets urging the release of political prisoners.

More protests then erupted across Syria, with people emboldened after decades of fear under the Assad family's iron-fisted rule flooding onto the streets demanding change.

Assad responded by promising a string of reforms, including an end to decades of emergency rule, a law allowing the creation of political parties and a new constitution stripping his Baath Party of its monopoly.

But the violent crackdown by regime forces against demonstrations and the mounting death toll stripped Assad's reform pledges of any credibility.

"The Syrian revolution is different from the other Arab Spring movements due to the huge sacrifices made by the people and the unprecedented repression" of the regime, said university professor Khattar Abu Diab.

"The regime is authoritarian to the bone and I think that its methods are even worse than Stalin's repression," said Abu Diab, who teaches international relations at Paris-Sud University.

At least 8,500 people have been killed in the Syrian crackdown on dissent since last March, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

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