Reform vow rejected, Syria set for more protests

Reform vow rejected, Syria set for more protests

Some 2,000 activists stage a sit-in in the suburb of Douma

President Bashar al-Assad’s long-awaited announcement came on Saturday, on the eve of Independence Day, after a month of bloody protests and a global outcry for change in the autocratic country.

But protesters took to the streets within hours of his speech, which was followed by calls for more demonstrations on Sunday posted on social networking website Facebook, a motor of the pro-reform movement. “The day of independence is the day of liberty across Syria,” the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page said of the 65th anniversary of the end of French rule.

“The juridical commission on the emergency law has prepared a series of proposals for new legislation, and these proposals will be submitted to the government, which will issue a new law within a week at the most,” he said.

Today, customs seized a consignment of arms, including assault rifles and night-vision goggles, in a container at the Tanaf border crossing with Iraq, the state news agency SANA reported. It said arms have also been intercepted at posts with Turkey and Lebanon.

In a televised address on Saturday to a new cabinet tasked with launching reforms, Assad also expressed his sorrow over the deaths of an estimated 200 people in a month of protests demanding greater freedoms.

“We are sad for all the people we have lost and all the people injured, and consider them all martyrs,” he said.

Assad said demonstrations were “allowed by the Syrian constitution” although he added “there is no law in place to regulate them” and “police must first be trained and equipped to handle them.”

He told the new government unveiled on Thursday to act quickly and “take responsibility” and be “transparent” in their action.

But within hours of his speech some 2,000 protesters staged a sit-in in the suburb of Douma north of Damascus, demanding the release of relatives arrested on Friday during a major day of nationwide protests, activists said.

The official SANA news agency also reported around 2,000 people demonstrated in the southern protest hub of Daraa late on Saturday, chanting slogans for “freedom” and the lifting of emergency law.

The notorious law in force since 1963 restricts public gatherings and movement, authorises the interrogation of any individual and the monitoring of private communications and imposes media censorship.

Top human rights lawyer Haytham Maleh said Assad’s pledge to end emergency law was “not enough.”

“It must be accompanied by reform of the judicial system which is corrupt,” said Maleh, who was released from jail on March 8, benefitting from a presidential pardon.
Maleh called on the authorities to release political prisoners and said “interference by the security services in the lives of the citizens must stop.

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