Syria to lift emergency law
Syrian authorities have decided to lift emergency rule, a presidential adviser said on Sunday as residents of the northern city of Latakia buried victims of a wave of unrest that has put President Bashar al-Assad under unprecedented pressure.
Troops have deployed in Latakia, a religiously diverse port city 350 kilometres (220 miles) northwest of Damascus, where at least 12 people have been killed by gunfire involving snipers since Friday.
Two of the victims were buried Sunday.
"The official death toll in Latakia is 10 people -- citizens and members of the security forces -- and two gunmen," presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban said in Damascus Sunday.
More than 30 people have been officially confirmed killed in a spiral of violence that has gripped Syria since a wave of protest broke out on March 15, with demonstrators demanding major reforms in the country which has been ruled by the Baath party for close to 50 years.
Activists say more than 126 people have died, with upwards of 100 killed on Wednesday alone in a bloody crackdown on protests in Daraa, the southern tribal town that has become the symbol of the dissent.
The state has 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 rose to power in March 1963.
"The decision to lift the emergency law has already been made. But I do not know about the timeframe," Shaaban said.
Syria's 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.
London-based rights group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights welcomed the decision and said some 2,000 people should be freed from prison should the law be lifted.
"All those indicted by the Supreme State Security Court should be freed as the court operates under the state of emergency," said Rami Abdulrahman, who heads the organisation.
The unrest has put enormous pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, who rose to power after the death of his father Hafez al-Assad.
The 45-year-old president is expected to make a public address in the days to come.
Shaaban accused Palestinian refugees from a nearby camp of wanting to fuel sectarian strife in Latakia, home to some 450,000 of Christians, Sunni Muslims and Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Ahmed Jibril, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, denied any Palestinian involvement in Saturday's violence, in a statement published in Al-Watan.
Deadly violence has also gripped cities in southern Syria for 13 days now, 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.