Assad's tycoon cousin, target of protesters, quits

June 17, 2011 03:33

BEIRUT - Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of President Bashar Assad and focus of anti-corruption protests, is quitting business, state media said, in a major concession to demonstrations against Assad's rule.

The announcement came on the eve of weekly Muslim prayers, which have usually witnessed the biggest protests and the heaviest bloodshed of the three-month unrest, and as army units circled two restive towns in the north of the country.

Makhlouf controls several businesses including Syria's largest mobile phone operator, duty free shops, an oil concession, airline company and hotel and construction concerns, and shares in at least one bank.

He has been subject to US sanctions since 2007 for what Washington calls public corruption, as well as EU sanctions imposed in May, but repeatedly maintained he was a legitimate businessman whose firms employ thousands of Syrians.

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