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Syrian ruling party members defect en masse

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AP

(Read caption) In this image made on a mobile phone, people walk past pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday.

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More than 200 members of Syria's ruling Baath Party resigned Wednesday in protest of the violent crackdown on antigovernment protesters.

Although the bulk of the resignations came from low-level party officials of little importance individually, the mass resignation is significant because the Baath Party has ruled Syria since 1963 with almost no dissent. It counts about 10 percent of Syrians (about 2 million people) as members, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While the Syrian government classifies itself as a parliamentary republic, according to the US State Department it is in reality "an authoritarian regime" led by the Assad family and Baath party, virtually uninterrupted and uncontested for decades. A defection like this was "unthinkable" before the antigovernment protests that erupted in March, according to the Telegraph.

Baath officials in Deraa announced their resignation in a statement Wednesday, according to the BBC:

"In view of the negative stance taken by the leadership of the Arab Socialist Baath Party towards the events in Syria and in Deraa, and after the death of hundreds and the wounding of thousands at the hands of the various security forces, we submit our collective resignation."

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