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Middle East
Syria deploys troops after clashes
Security forces patrol city of Latakia following the deaths of 12 people in a wave of protest, violence and unrest.
Last Modified: 28 Mar 2011 14:31
Al Jazeera's Rula Amin reports on the public outrage following the deaths of protesters in Sanamin.

Syria has deployed security forces to the northern city of Latakia after violent protests left at least 12 people dead and more than 150 injured amid calls for reform.

Troops patrolled the streets of Latakia - a religiously diverse port city 350km northwest of the capital, Damascus - in force on Sunday, in response to a wave of unrest that has put president Bashar al-Assad under unprecedented pressure.

Syrian authorities have accused "armed groups" of seeking to incite sectarian strife in the city, which has seen violent clashes between pro-reform protesters, security forces and government supporters.

Dozens of pro-reform protesters have been killed in similar clashes in towns and cities across the country, including the city of Daraa and nearby Sanamin.

In Sanamin, the relatives of those killed in clashes on Friday said their loved ones had been demonstrating peacefully and that security forces - not gunmen - killed at least 10 people there.

However, Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to the president, told Al Jazeera's Cal Perry that "what happened in Sanamin, it was not a protest, it was not a demonstration, it was a group of about 10 people who attacked a police station".

"They [then] went to a military station and were firing at the guards. And so obviously the guards, it's their duty to protect their military station. And here is where firing began and unfortunately there were victims there," she said.

The competing claims came as Syrian authorities announced they would end decades of emergency rule in the country.

Shaaban told our correspondent that the law would "absolutely" be lifted, but she failed to give a timetable.

The repeal of the emergency law, in place since the 1963 coup that brought the Baath Party to power, has been a key demand of protesters demanding greater political freedoms.

Reforms announced

The emergency law imposes restrictions on public gatherings and movement and authorises the arrest of "suspects or persons who threaten security".

It also authorises the interrogation of any individual and the surveillance of personal communication as well as official control of the content of newspapers and other media before publication.

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The state also announced a series of reforms, including the release of detainees and plans to form new laws on the media and licensing political parties.

"There are many issues which were decided, and which are being followed up with the president and the government," Shaaban said.

Pressed on when reforms would be implemented, she said that "one or two steps in the implementation [of reforms]" would be announced within a week.

On Monday, Al Jazeera's Perry reported that Assad "has been in meetings late last night, he is in meetings right now, and what they are discussing is what concessions will be made to the protesters".

Our correspondent said the move to lift the emergency law would go some way towards appeasing the protesters' demands. 

"It will open up press freedom and political freedom. This is something that people have been calling for on the streets. Certainly it is a concession on the government's part," Perry said.

He added, however, that "there is a chance that we will see more protests in the coming days".

"There was a huge security presence on the streets of Damascus [on Sunday] night as we drove through ... We saw groups of eight to 10 secret police standing on the corners in no secret fashion at all, which is a pretty good indication that they are expecting potentially some more protests."

Reformist approach

Elsewhere on Monday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, advised Syria to "positively respond"
to people's demands for reform.

"We advised Mr Assad that responding to people's years-old demands positively with a reformist approach would help Syria to overcome the problems more easily," he said from Ankara on Monday, adding that he expected Assad would publicly announce plans for reform shortly.

The unrest across Syria has put enormous pressure on Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez on his death in 2000, and the 45-year-old president is expected to make a public address in the days to come.

Deadly violence has also gripped cities in southern Syria for weeks. On Saturday, demonstrators torched the Baath party's local headquarters in the southern town of Tafas.

Nationwide, officials say more than 30 people have died since the unrest began earlier this month.

But activists have said that more than 126 people have already died in protest violence, with upwards of 100 killed on Wednesday alone in a crackdown on protests in Daraa, a southern tribal town that has become the symbol of the dissent.

In London, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a list of 41 names of people reportedly detained by authorities on Friday. Amnesty International has issued a list of 93 people it says have been detained. And Reuters media on Sunday reported that two of its journalists in the country were missing.

In a move said to be aimed at placating protesters, Syrian authorities on Sunday released a lawyer - Diana Jawabra - along with 15 others who were arrested for taking part in a silent protest demanding the release of children detained for scrawling graffiti inspired by pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.

This followed news of the freeing of 260 political prisoners.

Assad faces calls to curb a pervasive security apparatus, free political prisoners and reveal the fate of tens of thousands of dissidents who disappeared in the 1980s.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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