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Arab leaders not doing enough to meet public demands for reform

Arab leaders who have faced popular uprisings in their countries this year have been too slow to make the necessary reforms and compromises to meet the demands expressed by the public, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said.

In an interview yesterday with AFP, Mr. Ban said he was troubled that many leaders in North Africa and the Middle East “have come out always too late, too little” to satisfy calls for change.

“If you look at all the situations happening across the Arab world and North Africa, there is one common desire: that is genuine freedom,” he told the news agency. “People have been oppressed under authoritarian rule for the past three or four decades. Now they believe that it is high time for rights to be respected and their aspirations to be heard.”

The Secretary-General urged leaders to listen more closely to the “aspirations and challenges” of their people, saying they should extend greater freedoms.

Mr. Ban said he had told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on several occasions to carry out reforms and engage in meaningful dialogue with opposition groups and protesters “before it is too late.”

He added that he has also tried to meet with other regional leaders who could influence the decision-making of Mr. Assad.

Turning to Libya, where military forces supporting the regime of Muammar al-Qadhafi have been engaged in fierce fighting with opposition groups since mid-February, Mr. Ban said he was concerned that the humanitarian crisis in that country is only worsening.

He stressed that the immediate goal must be a verifiable ceasefire so that aid can reach people in need, particularly in the besieged city of Misrata.

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