DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad plans to create a new constitution, a top ruling party official said on Tuesday, as China joined long-time ally Russia in pressing for prompt reforms in a country riven by a deadly crackdown on anti-regime protesters.
The death toll, already topping 2,900, according to UN calculations, rose further on Tuesday, with a young man shot dead in the central city of Homs and another man dying of wounds sustained there a day earlier, activists said.
Mohammed Said Bkheitan, a senior official in the ruling Baath party, said Assad will "decide within two days the creation of a committee to prepare a new constitution."
The committee will complete its work by year end, with the new document requiring a two-thirds approval of the Assad-dominated parliament and then being submitted to a referendum, Bkheitan was quoted by the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper as saying.
In Beijing, China urged Syria on Tuesday to move faster to implement reforms, a week after Beijing infuriated the West by blocking a proposed UN Security Council resolution against Assad’s deadly crackdown.
"We believe the Syrian government should move faster to honor its reform pledges and swiftly start to push forward the inclusive political process with the broad participation of all parties in Syria," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.
This was the first time that China has veered away from its long-standing policy of non-interference in the affairs of Syria, which has been rocked by anti-government protests and violence since mid-March.
Liu’s comments came as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Beijing.
On Friday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had told Assad either to reform or resign while warning the West that Russia will fight outside attempts to oust him.
Medvedev said three days after Russia and China sparked global outrage by jointly vetoing the UN resolution, that he wanted to see an end to the crackdown as much as Europe and the United States.
"Russia wants as much as the other countries for Syria to end the bloodshed and demands that the Syrian leadership conduct the necessary reforms," Medvedev said.
"If the Syrian leadership is unable to undertake these reforms, it will have to go," he said in one of his strongest public comments on the crisis.
But he quickly reasserted Russia’s earlier position by saying that the best the West could do was support talks and not meddle.
"This is something that has to be decided not by NATO or individual European countries but by the people and the leadership of Syria," Medvedev said.
On Sunday, Assad again renewed a pledge of reforms, having made numerous promises since the unrest broke out.
"Syria is taking steps focused on two main fronts — political reform and the dismantling of armed groups" seeking to destabilize the country, he said.
The "Syrian people had welcomed the reforms but that foreign attacks intensified just as the situation in the country began to make progress."
"Despite everything, a process of reform is under way," he assured them.
But on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow and Beijing were ready to propose a new UN resolution on Syria that would condemn violence carried out both by Assad’s regime and the opposition.
On the ground, meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "a young man was killed on Tuesday in the (Homs) district of Al-Bayyada by firing from behind a barricade.
The Britain-based group said another man died in hospital after having been gravely wounded on Monday.
It said security forces refused to return his body to his family unless they signed a document saying that "armed bands" had killed him.
The regime routinely blames such unidentified groups and "terrorists" of being behind the violence.
Since Monday night, the Observatory added that the Al-Khalidiya district of Homs has been the scene of a "vast security operation, with electricity and telecommunications cut off and the arrest of 115 people.
It added that people had beaten and insulted in front of their families, and that heavy shooting and caused injuries and damage to shops.