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Middle east

Vow to end emergency rule fails to appease protesters

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-04-17

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's pledge to lift almost 50 years of emergency rule was rejected by the opposition as not being enough on Sunday, as anti-government activists took to the streets.

REUTERS - Thousands of Syrians chanted slogans calling for greater freedom at independence day rallies on Sunday, witnesses said, a day after President Bashar al-Assad promised to lift emergency law.

"The people want freedom," several hundred people shouted at the grave of independence leader Ibrahim Hananu in Syria's second city Aleppo, which has been mostly free of pro-democracy protests that erupted more than a month ago in the south.
Hundreds also turned out in the southern city of Suweida, in the heart of the country's Druze heartland. They chanted "God, Syria, freedom, that's all," before coming under attack from Assad loyalists, a woman at the demonstration said.
"They came at us with sticks and also hit us with the pictures they were carrying of Bashar -- the same president who was talking about freedom yesterday," she said.
The demonstrations, which rights campaigners said included a march by about 1,500 people in the city of Banias, were held on the day Syria marked the anniversary of the departure of French soldiers 65 years ago.
Assad said on Saturday legislation to replace emergency law, in place for almost 50 years, should be ready by next week. But he did not address protesters' demands to curb Syria's pervasive security apparatus and dismantle its authoritarian system.
Rights groups say more than 200 people have been killed since demonstrations erupted in Deraa on March 18 in protest against the arrest of youths who had scrawled graffiti inspired by the Arab uprisings in North Africa.
Witnesses said thousands gathered in a main Deraa square after noon prayers on Sunday, chanting for "the downfall of the regime". The scene would have been unthinkable in Syria just a month ago, but residents said the mood was festive and there was little sign of security forces in the streets.
The unprecedented unrest has spread across the tightly controlled state, posing the sternest challenge yet to Assad, who assumed the presidency in 2000 when his father, Hafez al-Assad, died after 30 years in power.
But the head of Germany's intelligence service was quoted on Sunday as saying the Assad dynasty's history of crushing dissent meant a North Africa-style uprising was unlikely.
"Remember that the father of the current president a few decades back murdered as many as 30,000 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama," Ernst Uhrlau told Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper, referring to Hafez al-Assad's crushing of a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in 1982.
No leniency
Syrian opposition figures said Assad's pledge to replace emergency law with other legislation was likely only to preserve tough restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly in the country, under Baath Party rule since 1963.
Emergency law bans public gatherings of more than five people and served to throttle any public dissent until Syrians began taking to the streets, emboldened by the popular uprisings that ousted autocratic leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.
In a speech to his new cabinet broadcast on Saturday, Assad drew a line between what he called "demands for reform and intentions to create chaos and sabotage".
"We will not be lenient toward sabotage," Assad said. Syrian authorities have blamed "infiltrators" for stirring up unrest at the behest of outside players, including Lebanon and Islamist groups.
State news agency SANA said on Sunday a "large quantity" of weapons, including automatic rifles, sniper rifles and pistols, had been seized at the Tanaf border crossing with Iraq. Arms shipments also were discovered recently at crossings with Turkey and Lebanon, it added.
In his speech, Assad said corruption was a problem and a commission to address it should be set up. But he announced no measures to end his own family's dominance over Syria's economy.
His cousin Rami Makhlouf, a tycoon, has expanded his businesses during Assad's rule and he has been widely cited by protesters in their calls for an end to public corruption.
The West, which had been trying to coax Syria away from its anti-Israeli alliance with Iran and support for militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, has urged Assad to refrain from violent crackdowns on disaffected Syrians.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed what he said was Assad's "acknowledgement...that reform in Syria is necessary and urgent" and urged Syria's leadership to "lift the state of emergency next week.. and to ensure that those responsible for the deaths of civilians are held to account."


Date created : 2011-04-17


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