News / Middle East

Syria Lifts Emergency Law But Warns Against More Protests

A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows people gathering for the funeral of two people allegedly killed in recent clashes in Homs, north of Damascus, April 19, 2011
A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows people gathering for the funeral of two people allegedly killed in recent clashes in Homs, north of Damascus, April 19, 2011

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Syria's government has approved an end to decades-old emergency laws - meeting a key demand of anti-government protesters.  But authorities also are warning against any further demonstrations. Syrian security forces earlier fired on protesters in the city of Homs for the second night in a row.

Witnesses say Syrian security forces fired automatic rifles and tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters overnight in the New Clock Square of Homs, Syria's third-largest city.  A number of protesters were killed or wounded.  A Facebook support group showed video of at least one body being carried from the scene.

Thousands of protesters had gathered in the square Monday after the funeral service at Homs’ main mosque for victims of shootings a day earlier. Organizers of the sit-in insisted they would not leave the square until their demands for reform were met.  Crowds also chanted "Down with the regime."

Witnesses say that security forces succeeded in clearing the square by early Tuesday and that tanks and other armed vehicles have blocked it off.  Syrian opposition activists are calling for fresh protests on Friday.

A Syrian Interior Ministry spokesman asserted that the protests are part of an armed rebellion being fomented by Islamic fundamentalists called Salafists. He called on citizens to report alleged Salafist activity and said the government would not tolerate such violence:

He says recent violence across Syria, including the killing of army officers, soldiers, police and civilians, as well as attacks on public and private property, are part of an armed rebellion by Salafist groups.  He says they have called for jihad and the setup of a Salafist caliphate. He says this rebellion is an ugly crime and that the law will stop it.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, say it is difficult to believe the Syrian government account of Salafist gangs firing with impunity in a tightly-run security state like Syria”

He also doubts recent pledges by President Bashar al Assad to reform the system in Syria.

"The regime understands the consequences of reform because in Syria reform simply means regime change. Therefore the regime will fight to the last bullet and to the last man in order to stay in power," he said.

Khashan believes the protests will continue in Syria, but does not think the regime is in imminent danger of falling.  He says Syria does not strike him as a country that lends itself to a successful revolution”  He notes though that Syria has had numerous military coups in its history and he believes the country may eventually see another such coup.   

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