Tue, Mar 29, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Syria to end decades of emergency rule

REACTION:An official said that the president would address the nation soon to clarify reforms he intends to carry out, such as ending the emergency law established in 1963

AFP, DAMASCUS

An elderly man sits near a burnt-out building in the northern Syrian city of Latakia, about 350km northwest of Damascus, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Syrian authorities said on Sunday they would end decades of emergency rule, as residents of the northern city of Latakia buried victims of a wave of unrest that has shaken the regime.

Buthaina Shaaban, a high--profile adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said the decision had been taken, but added: “I don’t know when it will be put into practice.”

However, when enacted, all people arrested under the terms of the law would be freed, she said.

Assad would “very soon” be addressing the nation to “explain the situation and clarify the reforms that he intends to carry out,” she added.

They included plans for a public debate on reforms including licensing political parties and -liberalizing media laws.

The lifting of the country’s emergency law would end draconian conditions in place since the Baath Party came to power in March 1963.

The law restricts public gatherings and allows for the arrest of anyone suspected of threatening the nation’s security. Its grip also extends to tight control of the country’s news media.

Syrian troops meanwhile deployed in force to Latakia, a religiously diverse port city 350km northwest of Damascus, that has been one of the main flashpoints in the recent uprising.

The authorities said 13 people have been killed by gunfire involving snipers since Friday. Two of the victims were buried on Sunday.

The streets of Latakia, home to 450,000 people, were completely deserted on Sunday and all shops remained closed.

Buildings in the commercial center bore the marks of destruction and fire, and residents said they were staying indoors for fear of more violence.

“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,” said a woman at her daughter’s bedside in the state-run hospital. “Her left leg has been amputated.”

Residents also told of gangs of looters armed with sticks and knives, a drive-by shooting at the state-run hospital early on Sunday and thugs beating up people in the street.

The unrest across Syria has put enormous pressure on Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez on his death in 2000, and the 45-year-old president is expected to make a public address in the days to come.

Nationwide, officials say more than 30 people have died since the unrest began earlier this month, amid calls for major reforms in the country.

However, activists say the toll is more than 126, with more than 100 killed on Wednesday alone in a crackdown on protests in Daraa, a southern tribal town that has become the symbol of the dissent.

Protesters have vowed to keep taking to the streets until all their demands for more freedom are met.

In London, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a list of 41 names of people reportedly detained on Friday in and around Damascus, Homs, Deir al-Zor and other cities.

Amnesty International has issued a list of 93 people it says have been detained.

Reuters news agency meanwhile reported on Sunday that two of its journalists in Syria — producer Ayat Basma and cameraman Ezzat Baltaji — were missing.

“We have reached out to the -relevant authorities in Syria and have asked for their help in securing our colleagues’ safe return home,” Stephen Adler, the agency’s editor-in-chief, said in a statement on the company’s Web site.

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