Assad, Bashar al- (bäshärˈ äl-äsˈsäd) [key], 1965–, Syrian political leader, son of Hafez al-Assad. A medical doctor, he left Syria (1992) for an ophthamology residency in London when his elder brother, Basil, his father's designated heir, was killed (1994) in an automobile accident. Assad returned to Syria and was groomed as his father's successor, attending the Homs military academy and attaining (1999) the rank of colonel. Upon his father's death (2000), he was named head of the ruling Ba'ath party and was nominated as president; he was confirmed in the office by referendum (2000, 2005). Assad attempted to modernize Syria and its army, making some moves toward improving the economy, but he also maintained a tight hold on power and sought to maintain Syria's domination over Lebanon. The violent suppression of protests against his regime in 2011 led by 2012 to a brutal civil war in which the Syrian government was accused of using nerve gas against its own people.
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