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Syria to Allow Political Parties Alongside Ruling Baath

Syrian protesters stand behind a Syrian flag during a demonstration against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in front of the Syrian embassy in Amman, July 21, 2011

The Syrian government has endorsed a draft law that would allow the formation of political parties in addition to the ruling Ba'ath party, which for decades has controlled political life in the country.

The multiparty bill is the latest conciliatory gesture from President Bashar al-Assad to more than four months of protests against his government.

But the nod to reform came as Syrian security forces arrested dozens of protesters in cities across the nation.

Rights groups say Syrian forces have killed at least 1,600 civilians during the crackdown, while the government has blamed much of the violence on terrorists and Islamists who it says have killed hundreds of security personnel.

A key demand of the protest movement is the abolishment of a constitutional mandate that stipulates Assad's Ba'ath Party is "the leader of the state and society."

The state-run news agency SANA reports that the draft law would allow for the establishment of any political party, as long as it is not based on "religion, tribal affiliation, or regional interests."

The law still needs to be approved by the parliament.

Assad, who came to power in 2000 after the death of his father President Hafez Assad has made a series of overtures to try to ease the unrest, including lifting emergency laws that gave the government the authority to arrest people without charges.

But his efforts have failed to quell the protest movement. Critics reject his gestures as either symbolic or too late.

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