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Syria Grants Citizenship to Kurds in Northeast

Syrian Kurds carry a Syrian flag bearing a picture of President Bashar Assad and Arabic writing that reads: "God protects Syria's Assad" as they celebrate the Nowruz spring festival with a traditional dance in Damascus, March 20, 2011

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has granted Syrian citizenship to tens of thousands of Kurds living in the country's northeast.

It is the latest effort by the government to appease protesters who, in demonstrations throughout the country, are demanding greater political freedoms.

State-run media say Assad issued the decree on Thursday, a week after he set up a committee to look into the 1962 census that originally denied the Kurdish minority citizenship.

Kurds in Syria have complained of discrimination from the government, and the lack of citizenship has sometimes hindered members of the ethnic minority from getting jobs.

State-run television also says Assad has fired the governor of Homs province, an area rocked by three weeks of anti-government protests.

The moves come a day after Syria made an overture to conservative Muslims by shutting the country's only casino and overturning a decision that banned teachers from wearing the Islamic veil.

President Assad has put forth a series of planned reforms, including changing some in leadership and studying the lifting of the country's emergency law banning gatherings. But the offers have failed to stop opposition demands.

Anti-government activists have called on crowds to commemorate the more than 60 people reported killed in recent protests against Syria's rulers. The government has blamed the deaths and the unrest on "armed groups."

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

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