- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 24 (UPI) — A banned Syrian Kurdish party called Monday for a boycott of upcoming parliamentary elections, charging that as always government selected candidates would win.

A Yakiti party statement said the boycott was meant to express Kurdish "dismay and rejection of the elections which do not allow the individual to chose who is to represent him."

Elections set for March 2, the statement said, would be like previous ones in which the list of candidates picked by the National Progressive Front, made up of the ruling Baath Party and seven other groups, would win.

Yakiti complained that the northeastern governorate of Hasaka, where Syria's Kurdish population is concentrated, was not allocated an appropriate number of parliamentary seats.

In the absence of official statistics, the Kurds assert they constitute a majority in Hasaka, which is situated close to the borders with Turkey and Iraq and those countries' Kurdish regions.

Syrian Kurds protest some 250,000 of them out of a total estimated Kurdish population of about 1.7 million do not have Syrian or any other nationality and so are not allowed to possess property, travel abroad or receive a higher education.

These Kurds lost their Syrian nationality following a 1962 census in which they were counted as recent arrivals from Turkey and Iraq, the Kurds say, though many of them had lived in the same place for generations.

Yakiti Secretary-General Abd al-Baqi Yusif told United Press International 10 other unlicensed Kurdish groups in Syria have issued similar calls for a boycott.

The statement criticized the Syrian regime that it said "proved one more time its inability to understand the international and regional developments at this stage because of its old-new handling of the election process."

Yusif rejected any link between Kurdish demands and U.S. attempts to introduce changes in the Middle East.

"We mean the state of development in the world and not the war on Iraq," he said.

Earlier this month, charges of inciting discord were brought against two Yakiti activists arrested last December for their part in a demonstration in front of the Parliament.

The 100 or so participants in the December protest, mostly from Yakiti, demanded an end to what they called the repression of the Kurdish people in Syria and recognition of their national identity.

Syria fears Kurds could be used to implement possible U.S. plans in the region as Washington continues preparations for war on Iraq.

Last August, President Bashar Assad paid the first visit to Hasaka by a Syrian head of state in more than 40 years.

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