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May 2014

Syria

Syria

Syria is located in the Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and Turkey. Damascus, its capital, is located at oasis fed by the Barada River; it is thought to be one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Arabic is the official language, while Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, and Circassian are also widely understood.

Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French administered the area as Syria until granting it independence in 1946. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In September 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished.

In November 1970, Hafiz al-Asad, a member of the socialist Ba'th Party and the minority Alawi sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. Following the death of President al-Asad, his son, Bashar al-Asad, was approved as president by popular referendum in July 2000. In May 2007 Bashar al-Asad's second term as president was approved by popular referendum. Influenced by major uprisings that began elsewhere in the region, anti-government protests broke out in the southern province of Dar'a in March 2011. Protesters called for the repeal of the restrictive Emergency Law allowing arrests without charge, the legalization of political parties, and the removal of corrupt local officials.

Since then, demonstrations and unrest have spread to nearly every city in Syria, but the size and intensity of protests have fluctuated over time. The government responded to unrest with a mix of concessions and force - including the repeal of the Emergency Law and approving new laws permitting new political parties and liberalizing local and national elections. However, the government's response has failed to meet opposition demands for Asad to step down. The government's ongoing security operations to quell unrest and widespread armed opposition activity have led to extended violent clashes between government forces and the opposition. International pressure on the Asad regime has intensified since late 2011, as the Arab League, EU, Turkey, and the United States have expanded economic sanctions.

In December 2012, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces was recognized by more than 130 countries as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Unrest persisted in 2013, and the death toll among Syrian Government forces, opposition forces, and civilians has topped 100,000. In January 2014, the Syrian Opposition Coalition and Syrian regime began peace talks at the UN sponsored Geneva II conference.

CIA World Factbook, 4/2014

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