Army ups visibility in flashpoint cities
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Syrian troops have beefed up their presence in the volatile southern city of Deraa and taken position in the Mediterranean port of Latakia, where at least 15 people have died in two days of clashes between security forces and anti-regime protesters.
AFP - Syrian security forces strove to restore order in the northern city of Latakia on Sunday, after two days of chaos that left 15 dead and more than 150 injured in a wave of unrest that has put President Bashar al-Assad under unprecedented pressure.
Troops have deployed in force in Latakia, a religiously diverse port city 350 kilometres (220 miles) northwest of Damascus, and authorities have accused fundamentalists of seeking to incite sectarian strife in the city.
Thirteen people have been officially confirmed killed by gunfire involving snipers since Friday. Two of the victims were buried on Sunday.
Syria has witnessed a wave of unrest that began earlier this month with protests to demand major reforms in the country, which has been ruled by the Baath party since 1963.
Officials have said more than 30 people have been confirmed killed in the violence.
But activists say more than 126 people have died, with upwards of 100 killed on Wednesday alone in a bloody crackdown on protests in Daraa, a southern tribal town that has become the symbol of the dissent.
The streets of Latakia, home to 450,000 people, were completely deserted on Sunday and all shops remained closed.
Buildings in the commercial centre bore the marks of destruction and fire, and residents said they were staying indoors for fear of a new round of the deadly violence that gripped the city this weekend.
"My daughter and her husband were walking down the street near the Khaled ibn Walid mosque here in our town when she was wounded in the knee by a sniper. Her left leg has been amputated," said a woman at her daughter's bedside in the state-run hospital.
Authorities have announced a string of reforms in a bid to reach out to protesters, including the release of detainees and plans to form new laws on the media and licensing political parties.
Syria has also decided to lift the country's emergency law, which was written in December 1962 and has been in place since the Baath party came to power in March 1963.
The emergency law imposes restrictions on public gatherings and movement and authorises the arrest of "suspects or persons who threaten security."
The law also authorises interrogation of any individual and the surveillance of personal communication as well as official control of the content of newspapers and other media before publication.
The unrest has put enormous pressure on Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez on his death in 2000.
The 45-year-old president is expected to make a public address in the days to come.
Presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban on Sunday accused fundamentalists and some Palestinian refugees from a nearby camp of wanting to fuel sectarian strife in Latakia, which has a mixed population of Christians, Sunni Muslims and Alawites, followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Ahmed Jibril, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, denied any Palestinian involvement in the violence.
Deadly violence has also gripped cities in southern Syria for 13 days, and protesters have vowed to keep taking to the streets until their demands for more freedom are met.
On Saturday, demonstrators torched the Baath party's local headquarters in the southern town of Tafas.
In nearby Daraa, at the Jordanian border, some 300 bare-chested young men climbed Saturday on the rubble of a statue of Hafez al-Assad, which had been torn down the day before, shouting anti-regime slogans, witnesses said.
The tribal town of Daraa has emerged as the hub of the protests and has sustained the most casualties as residents repeatedly come out to demonstrate.
Authorities have accused "armed gangs" and extremist Muslims of pushing peaceful rallies into violence.