Syria protest hate figure Makhlouf to quit business

BEIRUT - Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of the president, is quitting business and moving to charity work, state television said on Thursday, a move that would meet a demand of protesters seeking an end to Bashar al-Assad’s rule.



By (Reuters)

Published: Fri 17 Jun 2011, 10:27 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:21 AM

Makhlouf, a hate figure among protesters, controls several businesses, including Syria’s largest mobile phone operator, duty free shops, an oil concession, airline company and hotel and construction concerns, and shares in at least one bank.

Some critics call Makhlouf, in his 40s, the “the octopus of Syria’s economy”.

He has expanded his businesses during Assad’s rule and has been widely cited by protesters in their calls for an end to public corruption. One campaigner welcomed the move as a sign authorities were listening, but said protests would continue.

“As for his businesses, they will be directed so that they ... create jobs and support the national economy. He will not enter into any new project that (brings) him personal gain,” the television said of Makhlouf.

State news agency (SANA) quoted Makhlouf as saying he would put his 40 percent stake in Syriatel for initial public offering, and the profit would be allocated to humanitarian and charity work.

“Part of his humanitarian programme will be allocated for taking care of the families of Syria’s martyrs who were killed in the recent events,” it said.

Sanctions

The European Union listed Makhlouf and 12 Syrian officials on its sanctions list, which includes asset freezes and travel bans.

In 2008, the United States imposed sanctions on Makhlouf, who the US Treasury department said “improperly benefits from and aids the public corruption of Syrian regime officials”.

He insists his businesses are legitimate and provide professional employment for thousands of Syrians.

Makhlouf told the New York Times in May that Assad’s family was not going to capitulate. “We will sit here. We call it a fight until the end ... They should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone.”

Makhlouf’s brother, Hafez, is a senior official in the General Intelligence Directorate.

Human rights campaigner Louay Hussein said the announcement would not stop the 12-week protests, which pose the most serious threat to Assad’s 11-year rule.

“This announcement serves as a measure from the authorities towards listening to the demands of the protesters and towards the reform package which they promised to launch,” he said.

“If it is part of the reform package, I think then it will be (seen) as an indication of the authorities’ credibility.”

Syria’s military has crushed protests inspired by other Arab uprisings, forcing thousands of refugees to stream north across the border into Turkey.

Syrian rights groups say 1,300 civilians and more than 300 soldiers and police have been killed since the protests broke out in March against 41 years of rule by the Assad family.

Syrian authorities blame armed groups, backed by Islamists for the unrest. Assad’s handling of the protests has triggered the US and EU sanctions, including on himself, after four years of detente with the West.

Syria’s backer Turkey also criticised Assad. Turkish officials met a top Syrian envoy in which Ankara called for Syria to immediately halt crackdown on protesters and to pass democratic reforms.


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