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Syria Announces Reforms as Protests Continue


Protesters watch as tear gas fills a street during a demonstration in Deraa in this image from amateur video taken on Mar 23 2011 and posted on a social media website

Protesters watch as tear gas fills a street during a demonstration in Deraa in this image from amateur video taken on Mar 23 2011 and posted on a social media website

The Syrian government has announced a series of reforms, including possibly ending the country's emergency law, in the wake of a series of deadly anti-government protests.

A presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban announced the changes at a news conference Thursday. She said the government will study the idea of scrapping the emergency law. Syria has been under the law since the Baath Party took power in 1963, banning any opposition to its rule.

Anti-government protesters have been demanding that President Bashar al-Assad end the emergency law, curb Syria's pervasive security apparatus, free political prisoners and allow freedom of expression.

Bouthaina Shaaban, adviser of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, speaks at a news conference in Damascus, Mar 24, 2011

Bouthaina Shaaban, adviser of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, speaks at a news conference in Damascus, Mar 24, 2011

The presidential adviser said the government also is drafting a law that would allow political parties, enacting measures to fight unemployment, and raising salaries for public servants. Syria's state-run media says wages will increase by 20-30 percent, while the tax rate on salaries will decrease.

The adviser's news conference took place hours after thousands of Syrians chanted anti-government slogans as they attended funerals for nine protesters killed during a government assault on Wednesday. The incident took place in Daraa, a southern city that remains tense following nearly a week of clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators.

The adviser referred to that city as she announced the social measures. She said the decisions being made take into account the "people of Daraa."

Human rights activists and witnesses say 15 people were killed in the city Wednesday by police gunfire. Syria's government has a different account of the violence. State-run media said four people were killed when an "armed gang" attacked a medical team.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the unrest in Daraa. In a statement Thursday, she said the use of live ammunition and excessive force against peaceful protesters must cease immediately."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Syria should follow the example of Egypt, where the army stood on the "sidelines" and allowed pro-democracy demonstrations. He commented Thursday from Israel, after wrapping up a trip to Egypt.

Separately, activists Thursday said Syrian authorities have arrested Mazen Darwish, an outspoken critic of the government. His detention was announced by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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