Assad under pressure as new Syria protests called

Assad under pressure as new Syria protests called

"Our date is Friday, from all houses, all places of worship, every citizen and every free man, to all squares, for a free Syria," said a statement posted today on Facebook group The Syria Revolution 2011.

The group, which remains anonymous, has been a driving force behind protests which erupted on March 15, focused mainly in Daraa, south of the capital, and in the confessionally divided coastal city of Latakia.

Assad is facing domestic pressure unprecedented in his 11-year rule as protests demanding greater freedoms in the country, which has been in a state of emergency for close to 50 years, enter a third week.

While Assad failed to announce the end of a state of emergency in his speech yesterday -- his first appearance since the dissent broke out -- state-run news agency SANA reported a "study" was underway to replace the emergency law with new legislation on national security and counter-terrorism.

"Under a directive by President Bashar al-Assad, a committee of legal experts has been formed to study new laws on national security and counter-terrorism, in order to pave the way for ending the state of emergency," SANA said.

"The committee should finish its work by April 25," it added.
Demonstrators have defied the state of emergency with street gatherings in the south and north, emboldened by the wave of dissent that has rocked the Arab world since December.

While small protests initially surfaced in the capital Damascus, they were quickly contained by Syria's renowned security forces, and AFP correspondents have witnessed activists being dragged away by plain-clothes security force members armed with batons.
Rights activists estimate more than 130 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, mainly in Daraa and Latakia. Officials put the death toll at closer to 30.

Assad has blamed Syria's "enemies" for the unrest, saying they were targeting Syria's unity and taking advantage of the needs of the people to incite division, in a country that has long prided itself on coexistence in a region torn by sectarian strife.

"This conspiracy is different in shape and timing from what is going on in the Arab world," he said. "Syria is not isolated from the region... but we are not a copy of other countries."
Key Assad aide Buthaina Shaaban had told AFP on Sunday that the government intended to lift the state of emergency, but she could not say when.