The Syrian government has announced that it will abolish an unpopular law after weeks of unrest that have resulted in the deaths over 200 people. The decision is seen as a major concession to anti-government protesters.
President Assad addressed his new cabinet on Saturday
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told members of his new cabinet on Saturday that he hoped a draconian emergency law would be scrapped within a week.
The law, which was enacted nearly 50 years ago, imposed restrictions on public gatherings and movement. It also authorized the interrogation of any individual and the monitoring of private communications as well as limiting freedom of the press.
"The judicial 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," Assad said.
It's thought that the decision was reached in an effort to appease anti-government protesters, who have been on the streets for over a month, calling for greater freedoms.
Calling the repeal of the emergency a first step, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said well-intentioned speeches would not be enough to ease international criticism of the Syrian government.
"What are important are deeds, not announcements," he said. "That is the only standard by which we will judge the Syrian government."
Mourning the dead
In the televised speech, Assad also expressed his sorrow for the estimated 200 people who were killed during clashes between protesters and security forces.
Human rights groups say scores have died in the month long protests
"We are sad for all the people we have lost and all the people injured, and consider them all martyrs," he said. "The Syrian people are respectable. They love the regime and reject chaos."
Addressing his new government, Assad also commented on the complaints surrounding joblessness, corruption and a crisis in agriculture which have provoked the social unrest.
"Corruption is a threat to morality and to the country's potential for development," he said. "Real development will come through the reform of our laws."
While Assad did not address protesters directly, he said demonstrations are "allowed by the Syrian constitution" despite there being "no law in place to regulate them." He added that police need to be taught how to handle protests.
"The role of police is to protect demonstrators as well as public and private goods from all acts of sabotage, for which there will be no tolerance because people reject anarchy," Assad said.
Meanwhile, further demonstrations were held in the cities of Daraa and Banias on Saturday ahead of Assad's speech.
Thousands in the northwestern coastal city of Banias took to the streets to attend the funeral of a man who was shot by regime agents and later died of his wounds.
The mourners chanted slogans calling for greater freedoms and an end to the regime.
Syria's newly formed cabinet met for their first session on Saturday
Media reports say that about 2,000 women also rallied in the centre of Banias "in favor of liberty and in homage of the martyr."
The demonstrations were the latest in a series of protests which have been met with fierce government crackdowns.
On Friday, tens of thousands of people took part in protests across the country exactly one month after an unprecedented protest was staged in the capital, Damascus, calling for the release of political prisoners.
The government granted amnesty for scores of prisoners on Thursday who were detained during the protests. But according to the Syrian League for Human Rights several activists, including a prominent pro-democracy writer, were still being held.
Syria's response to the protests has been met with international condemnation. On Friday, the United States and the United Nations renewed calls for Syria to put a stop to the violence.
It is hoped that Syria's new cabinet will carry out broad reforms designed to address the mounting social unrest.
Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Sean Sinico