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World

Syria to consider greater political freedoms

In the face of growing anti-government protests, Syria says it will consider granting greater political freedoms and ending emergency rule. This comes after security forces reportedly killed dozens of protesters.

syrian protesters

Anti-government protesters have been targeted by security forces

The Syrian leadership has said it will consider a number of options aimed at granting more political freedoms in response to the increasing anti-government unrest and violence.

An advisor to President Bashar al-Assad said the government would form a committee that would look into ending a raft of repressive measures.

"I am happy to announce the decisions made today by the Arab Baath party under the auspices of President Bashar al-Assad ... which include studying the possibility of lifting the emergency law and licensing political parties," the president's media spokeswoman told reporters on Thursday.

Syria has been under emergency law since 1963, while the Baath party has ruled unchallenged for 40 years. The spokeswoman added that the government would also look into ways of fighting corruption.

It comes after the anti-government protests grew in intensity, following reports of a violent crackdown by security forces on demonstrators in the southern city of Daraa.

Unconfirmed reports from activists and hospital officials put the number of dead at between 25 and 100. Residents said downtown Daraa resembled a ghost town, as snipers took up positions on rooftops near the Omaria mosque, scene of the protests and subsequent clashes.

A crowd of 20,000 people gathered at the city's southern cemetery to pay their respects to some of those killed in the violence. As they marched they chanted "God, Syria, Freedom. The blood of martyrs is not spilled in waste."

International concern

Germany on Thursday joined the chorus of international condemnation urging the Syrian leadership to put an end to the violence.

"The violence must end immediately. The Syrian government must make sure that basic human and civil rights, as well as the rule of law, is observed," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.

The US and the UN also expressed their concern, calling on the government to adhere to its obligations and responsibilities to protect civilians and to listen to their legitimate aspirations for political freedom and basic human rights.

Author: Rob Mudge (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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