By Nicole Rojas | n.rojas@latinospost.com | @nrojas0131 (staff@latinospost.com) | First Posted: Dec 06, 2012 07:58 AM EST

A Syrian immigrant shouts slogans while holding up a picture of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad during a demonstration in front of the Syrian embassy in Sofia April 17, 2011. (Photo : Reuters)

What began as pro-democracy protests against President Bashar al-Assad has developed into a full-scale civil war that has gripped Syria for the past 20 months. The ensuring conflict, which has taken the lives of over 40,000 people, has proved that the Assad regime will do anything to remain in power.

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In the third installment of "Battle for Syria," Latinos Post will look to shed light on President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Assad, who is part of the Baath Party, has vowed to crush the Syrian revolution that aims to topple him and his regime since March 2011. 

President Bashar al-Assad

Bashar al-Assad first became president in 2000 following the death of his father, President Hafez al-Assad. Bashar was not originally intended to succeed his father's 30-year rule, but was forced to step up after his brother, Basil, died in a high-speed car crash in 1994.

During the first few months of his term, Assad billed himself as a liberalized reformer who would lead the country towards more political freedom. Soon after coming to power, however, Assad began to rule Syria with an iron fist, similar to his father.

According to the BBC, Assad decision to crush opposition to his regime has been influenced by his brother Maher, the leader of the Republican Guard and his sister Bushra and her husband Asef Shawkat, the deputy chief of staff of the armed forces.

Following the first protests in March and April of 2011, Assad assured Syrians that new legislation would better protect them, allow for a more liberalized media and reduce the power of the Baath Party. However, the Syrian regime soon began a fierce crackdown that has left scores dead each day.

Since then, Assad has become increasingly more reclusive, giving rare interviews to the world's media. However, throughout his interviews, the president continues to claim that he and his government are not to blame for the rising number of dead in the conflict. While he has seemed determined to remain in power, it appears that Assad may be considering the alternatives.

On Wednesday, several international newspapers reported that Assad has begun considering political asylum in a number of countries in Latin America. According to Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Faisal al Miqdad has held meetings in Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela, handing classified letters from Assad to each president. 

Syrian Regime (Assad's Inner Circle)

According to reports, Assad's inner regime circle is made of relatives and members of his minority Alawite community. One of his biggest allies is his brother Maher, believed to be the second most powerful in the country. Maher, chief of the Republican Guard, is said to be violent and unstable. The BBC reported that Maher has been accused by the US and the European Union as being the "principal overseer of violence against demonstrators" since the conflict began.

Fellow relative Rami Makhlouf, Assad's first cousin, is also among his inner circle, leading as the most powerful economic figure in the country. Makhlouf has been labeled as one of the most corrupt men in the Syrian regime, the BBC reported.

His brother, Hafez Makhlouf, leads part of the civil intelligence service called the General Security Directorate in Damascus. According to the Washington Post, the EU imposed sanctions against Hafez due to his involvement in the violent crackdowns against demonstrators.

Other key figures in Assad's inner circle include: Abdul Fatah Qudsiya (head of military intelligence) and Ali Mamluk (head of the General Security Directorate). Both men have been implicated by the US and the EU for their direct involvement in the crackdown against the opposition. 

In the next installment of "Battle for Syria," we will look into the many fractions of the opposition including the Free Syrian Army and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

Previous Installments of "Battle for Syria":

>> Part I: Understanding the Conflict that is Ripping the Nation Apart
>> Part II: The World Reacts as Violence Spills Over Syria's Borders

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