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Syria's President Meets Daraa Delegation

Women demonstrate on the Baida coastal highway to demand to release of those swept up in mass arrests, April 13, 2011

Reports from Syria say that President Bashar al-Assad has met with representatives from the southern town of Daraa, an epicenter of anti-government unrest.

The reports say the meeting took place on Thursday. There was no immediate word on the outcome of the talks, which were an apparent effort to calm the situation in Daraa.

Last Friday, at least 26 protesters were killed in the Daraa area after plainclothes security forces opened fire on demonstrators. There had been growing violence in the city between pro-government forces and opposition activists.

Demonstrators in Syria have been calling for sweeping political reforms, particularly an end to the decades-old emergency law that gives the government a free hand to stamp out public protests, ban opposition and justify arbitrary arrests.

On Wednesday, witnesses say hundreds of Syrians, mostly women and children, blocked a major coastal highway linking the towns of Tartous and Banias to protest the government's detention of opposition activists.

Separately, the Wall Street Journal newspaper says Iran is secretly helping president Assad crack down on opposition protests. The newspaper on Thursday quotes U.S. officials as saying Tehran is providing equipment to Syria, as well as assistance in monitoring and blocking protesters' use of cell phones, text-messaging and the Internet.

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

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