03/25/2011, 00.00
SYRIA
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Demonstrations in Damascus, despite Assad’s promises

Reports are coming in of 15 dead in various Syrian cities a day after the government announced that it is studying ways to abolish the emergency law, fight corruption, and allow new parties. Meanwhile, the regime organises counterdemonstrations and arrests protesters.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Demonstrations continue in Syria today with 15 casualties reported in Deraa. The capital Damascus and other cities have also been affected as police made some arrests.

The intervention by security forces and the military come a day after the government said it would set up a “committee” to study the abolition of 48-year-old emergency rule, take steps against corruption as well as look into new laws on parties and the media. The promise of reform was accompanied by an announcement that demonstrators already in detention would be released.

Yesterday’s announcement by presidential spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban followed a crackdown that left a number of people dead, between 100 and 150 according to human rights groups. For many, the statement appeared to be an attempt to limit if not stop large-scale protests organised via social networks for today, Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, which since events in Egypt has become also a day of protest.

It is no accident that the spark that lit the anti-regime unrest was struck in front of the al-Omari Mosque in Deraa, which has now been taken over by security forces. Until yesterday, it had also been the scene of bloody clashes.

Despite the presence of thousands of police agents, some 20,000 mourners yesterday attended the funerals of the victims of repression, a fact that perhaps set off more alarm bells about today.

In fact, protesters called for a ‘day of dignity’ today. Demonstrations have taken place in various cities, like Banias, Daael, Hama, Tel and, of course, Deraa as well as Damascus.

Deraa, the town where protests began, has been virtually sealed off by the army. Foreign journalists have also been kicked out.

People from neighbouring villages who tried to cross the barriers have apparently been killed. Elsewhere reports say hundreds of people have taken to the streets calling for freedom.

Syria’s regime has reacted to the challenge. On the one hand, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has tried to calm protests by welcoming some of the “just” grievances and by raising public service salaries by 30 per cent. On the other, the authorities are arresting protesters, organising counterdemonstrations hailing Assad, whilst the media controlled by the regime try to downplay the crisis, calling it a “passing cloud” that Syria will overcome. (PD)

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