A cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad living in exile warned Monday that Syria risks descending into a civil war if the government does not bow to demands that it carry out democratic reforms.
The Syrian president is facing unprecedented pressure on his 11-year rule as protesters demand greater freedoms and test his family's four-decade grip on power.
He has made a string of gestures hinting at change but has failed to assuage protesters who are demanding greater freedom and political reforms.
"The government is trying to buy time," said his cousin Ribal al-Assad, the head of the London-based Organization for Democracy and Freedom in Syria.
"But we are going to keep up pressure because if we give it up, they will let things remain as they have been for the past 40 years," he said.
"We are not going to stop until they listen to the people and I think this way we will achieve change. We have to hope that it is possible to have change with Bassar al-Assad in power," he told Spain's radio Cadena Ser.
"If he does not put in places changes today, the situation can very easily turn into a civil war and we don't want that. There are people in the government, in the secret service, in the security apparatus that are trying to create a conflict."
Ribal al-Assad, 35, is the son of Rifaat al-Assad, the brother of late president Hafez al-Assad and the uncle of the current head of state. He went into exile in 1984.
"People in Syria also want change but it is a bit different than in Tunisia and Egypt because there are many different ethnicities and religions," he said, referring to countries where protests toppled veteran leaders earlier this year.
"If change does not happen peacefully, it could be a disaster," he said.
"Everyone in Syria has seen what is happening in Arab countries but in Syria there are many minorities. Everyone has arms and everyone will want to defend their own people. It is like what happened in Iraq."
Activists estimate more than 130 people have been killed in clashes with security forces in Syria, mainly in the cities of Daraa and Latakia. Officials put the death toll at closer to 30.
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