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Syrians Protest Despite Assad's Pledge

A Syrian pro-government protester shouts slogans during a protest following Friday prayers outside the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, April 15, 2011

Hundreds of people rallied in a town in southern Syria on Sunday, calling for greater freedom during protests on Syria's Independence Day.

Protesters in the town of Suweida chanted "God, Syria, Freedom!" Activists used social networking sites to urge Syrians to demonstrate against the government despite a promise by President Bashar al-Assad that decades-old emergency laws will be lifted within a week.

Mr. Assad made the announcement Saturday during a speech broadcast nationwide. Syrian demonstrators have been demanding an end to the emergency laws, which give security forces sweeping powers to carry out arrests and detentions.

Protesters took to the streets again after the president's speech.

Mr. Assad said that Syria's stability is a priority, and security forces need additional training on how to deal with protests.

Syrian security forces have fired on demonstrators in some instances. Human rights groups say more than 200 people have been killed during the government's crackdown on protests.

Last week, Mr. Assad unveiled a new Cabinet and ordered the release of people detained during recent protests in measures seen as a bid to ease growing unrest.

In Saturday's speech, Mr. Assad said unemployment - particularly joblessness among youth - remains Syria's biggest problem. He said young people unable to find jobs become frustrated, and - in his words - "turn away from the aspirations of the state." He urged the new Cabinet to consider measures that could create more jobs.

Syria has been ruled by the Assad family since 1970, when the current president's father, Hafez al-Assad, became head of state. He died in 2000.

The Emergency Law effectively limits most constitutional protections for individual citizens in Syria by banning demonstrations, controlling the media and allowing eavesdropping. It has been in effect nearly 50 years.

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